Hackettstown

THE GREAT FIRE – repost

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Centenary Collegiate Institute would prove to be a critical year for the school, testing the dedication and determination of every member of Centenary’s community. Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 31st, 1899, a fire started that demolished the main building, leaving students and staff without dormitories, classrooms, or possessions.

THE FIRE

The origin of the fire is unknown, but was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of painters’ supplies stored too close to a boiler room in the basement. A night watchman discovered the fire but was unable to fight the flames by himself. He alerted Mr. Terrill, the College’s bookkeeper, and brother-in-law to current president, Dr. Wilbert P. Ferguson. The two men rushed from Mr. Terrill’s room on the fourth floor back down to the basement, accompanied by three professors who had detected the faint smell of smoke. The men, seeing the basement engulfed in flames, abandoned their idea of putting the fire out themselves, and quickly created a plan for rousing the building’s sleeping occupants. One went to notify the president’s family, another to the teachers in the ladies’ halls, the third to the teachers in the men’s halls, the fourth to the servant’s hall, and the last ran to summon the fire department.

Within minutes all were awake and exiting the building. The ladies were assembled and organized by their heroic preceptress, Mrs. Hoag, and Mrs. Ferguson, the President’s wife. At some point the ladies were sent across campus to the gentlemen’s gymnasium, where Mrs. Hoag called attendance from memory. The professors visited the gentlemen’s halls until they were certain that every young man had escaped. There were no casualties and no serious injuries, save for one young man with weak lungs who suffered minor smoke inhalation.

THE BUILDING, ENGULFED

At 2 a.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled for the last time, falling to the ground after the final chime. By 4 a.m. the destruction was complete. Nothing remained of the building but sections of brick wall. Two gymnasiums, the chemical laboratory, the barn, and the icehouse survived, as they were located across campus. The fire department, town citizens, and C.C.I. students and staff tried valiantly to put out the fire, but the flames traveled through a pipe organ shaft and empty stairwells, consuming the chapel and library. Soon after the whole building was ablaze. Every student, professor, and employee lost some of their possessions, and many lost everything but their bedclothes. That morning the building lay in ruins. Students and staff assembled in the Methodist Church, where they were given permission to go home.

AFTERMATH, INTERIOR

THE RUINS OF C.C.I.

All seemed lost, but the Board of Trustees and President were not willing to give up on Centenary easily. As early as November 7th, announcements were sent out that the school would continue its Fall Term. Classes reopened on November 20th. Local hotels and resorts offered their facilities to the Institute, and C.C.I. gratefully accepted the hospitality of the citizens of Hackettstown. Private homes were turned into dormitories and classrooms. Each home was dubbed a hall, and to tell them apart, each hall was given a professor’s name. The chapels on Main Street offered space for meals and recitation. Life continued at C.C.I. in unfamiliar settings, but it continued nonetheless. A class of forty-three graduated that year.

After the year concluded, the Board of Trustees and Dr. Whitney again began the daunting task of fundraising to rebuild Centenary. A new president, Dr. Charles W. McCormick, was inaugurated, and plans were set in motion to reformat the Institute as a day school until construction could be completed. All other departments were shut down in order to focus on the College Preparatory program. A hall was rented in town for recitations, and students boarded with private families. The day school only had two teachers, Miss Hannah Voorhees and Professor Hammond, who each taught eight classes a day.

Funds were raised to begin the construction of a new Institute, and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on December 1, 1900. The college reopened on September 23, 1901, although the chapel and recitation rooms were still under construction. The new structure was completed before the end of 1901, and Centenary was off and running once again.

CENTENARY COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE NEW MAIN BUILDING

The new Centenary Collegiate Institute main building, with dormitories in separate buildings on either side of the school.

 

 

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CURRENT ARCHIVAL PROJECTS

Library staff members have been working on several archival projects over the past few months. Here’s a look at what’s been going on!

Colleen Bain, a staff member from the Archives at Centenary College, traveled to Rutherfurd Hall with Centenary English Professor Dr. Lisa Mastrangelo to take part in their Tea and Talk series. They discussed the history of scrapbooking in America, using scrapbooks from Taylor Memorial Library’s archival collection. The collection includes scrapbooks kept by the first President of the school, wives of administrators, and the students themselves.

scrapbooking blog 02

One of the scrapbooks from Taylor Memorial Library’s collection

The two are also working together for Dr. Mastrangelo’s Advanced Composition class. Students in this class work closely with items from  TML’s Archives for their writing assignments, and meet with Archives staff members to learn more about the history of Centenary College. The class has partnered with the Archives for the past two semesters and will run a third time during this spring semester. In late January, Bain and Mastrangelo will also talk to the faculty about the use of archival materials (specifically scrapbooks) to teach advanced college writing.

A new project this semester is an upcoming lecture on the history of Centenary College, which will be held at the Hackettstown Library. Archival members have just begun gathering information and images for this talk, which should take place in about two months.

1948_1

A sleigh ride around Hackettstown

THE GREAT FIRE

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Centenary Collegiate Institute would prove to be a critical year for the school, testing the dedication and determination of every member of Centenary’s community. Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 31st, 1899, a fire started that demolished the main building, leaving students and staff without dormitories, classrooms, or possessions.

THE FIRE

The origin of the fire is unknown, but was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of painters’ supplies stored too close to a boiler room in the basement. A night watchman discovered the fire but was unable to fight the flames by himself. He alerted Mr. Terrill, the College’s bookkeeper, and brother-in-law to current president, Dr. Wilbert P. Ferguson. The two men rushed from Mr. Terrill’s room on the fourth floor back down to the basement, accompanied by three professors who had detected the faint smell of smoke. The men, seeing the basement engulfed in flames, abandoned their idea of putting the fire out themselves, and quickly created a plan for rousing the building’s sleeping occupants. One went to notify the president’s family, another to the teachers in the ladies’ halls, the third to the teachers in the men’s halls, the fourth to the servant’s hall, and the last ran to summon the fire department.

Within minutes all were awake and exiting the building. The ladies were assembled and organized by their heroic preceptress, Mrs. Hoag, and Mrs. Ferguson, the President’s wife. At some point the ladies were sent across campus to the gentlemen’s gymnasium, where Mrs. Hoag called attendance from memory. The professors visited the gentlemen’s halls until they were certain that every young man had escaped. There were no casualties and no serious injuries, save for one young man with weak lungs who suffered minor smoke inhalation.

THE BUILDING, ENGULFED

At 2 a.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled for the last time, falling to the ground after the final chime. By 4 a.m. the destruction was complete. Nothing remained of the building but sections of brick wall. Two gymnasiums, the chemical laboratory, the barn, and the icehouse survived, as they were located across campus. The fire department, town citizens, and C.C.I. students and staff tried valiantly to put out the fire, but the flames traveled through a pipe organ shaft and empty stairwells, consuming the chapel and library. Soon after the whole building was ablaze. Every student, professor, and employee lost some of their possessions, and many lost everything but their bedclothes. That morning the building lay in ruins. Students and staff assembled in the Methodist Church, where they were given permission to go home.

AFTERMATH, INTERIOR

THE RUINS OF C.C.I.

All seemed lost, but the Board of Trustees and President were not willing to give up on Centenary easily. As early as November 7th, announcements were sent out that the school would continue its Fall Term. Classes reopened on November 20th. Local hotels and resorts offered their facilities to the Institute, and C.C.I. gratefully accepted the hospitality of the citizens of Hackettstown. Private homes were turned into dormitories and classrooms. Each home was dubbed a hall, and to tell them apart, each hall was given a professor’s name. The chapels on Main Street offered space for meals and recitation. Life continued at C.C.I. in unfamiliar settings, but it continued nonetheless. A class of forty-three graduated that year.

After the year concluded, the Board of Trustees and Dr. Whitney again began the daunting task of fundraising to rebuild Centenary. A new president, Dr. Charles W. McCormick, was inaugurated, and plans were set in motion to reformat the Institute as a day school until construction could be completed. All other departments were shut down in order to focus on the College Preparatory program. A hall was rented in town for recitations, and students boarded with private families. The day school only had two teachers, Miss Hannah Voorhees and Professor Hammond, who each taught eight classes a day.

Funds were raised to begin the construction of a new Institute, and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on December 1, 1900. The college reopened on September 23, 1901, although the chapel and recitation rooms were still under construction. The new structure was completed before the end of 1901, and Centenary was off and running once again.

CENTENARY COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE NEW MAIN BUILDING

The new Centenary Collegiate Institute main building, with dormitories in separate buildings on either side of the school.

 

 

BUILDING CENTENARY

This is the second in a series of posts about the history of Centenary College, using the book Through Golden Years as a guide. Words cannot express how grateful we are to have this book; we reference it constantly and learn new things about Centenary every time we open it. This information is so important, we wanted to share it with others. We are, first and foremost, a blog about Centenary’s history, and it only makes sense to dedicate our time and attention to a book that teaches us so much about it.

In 1865, two friends took a walk through Hackettstown. They stopped in a cornfield at the top of a hill and had a conversation about the future of the area. Reverend Crook S. Vancleve, a member of the Morristown District of the Newark Conference of the Methodist Church, said he imagined it as the spot where a new institute would be built, and that the man he was talking to would be the first president. Reverend George H. Whitney replied that he had no interest in the proposition. Little did he know just how accurate Reverend Vancleve’s words would be! Nine years later, Centenary Collegiate Institute, located in the exact spot they stopped and with Whitney as the first president, would have its opening day.

Long before the college opened, the name Centenary was chosen for it. The original name was quite long: “The Centenary Collegiate Institute of the Newark Conference, New Jersey.” Chosen by the Newark Conference in 1866, it honors the countless men and women who for a century “labored in the cause of righteousness” (Custard, 6). The next year the college received its charter. That’s why we consider the college to have opened in 1867, even though it’s first real opening day was in 1874.

The first Board of Trustees. Without them, there would be no Centenary College.

The first Board of Trustees. Without them, there would be no Centenary College.

Many sites were considered for the future home of the college, and a committee of newly appointed trustees considered Madison, Morristown, Flanders, Washington, Irvington, Orange, Plainfield and Newark before deciding on Hackettstown. In the spring of 1868, the exact location within the town was selected. The next year Reverend Whitney was appointed the ‘principal’ and given the task of raising money for a suitable building. A building and planning committee was also elected, and they chose an architect and a contractor. On September 9, 1869, the cornerstone of the new institute was laid in place. The event was heavily advertised and attended by many. They gathered in the fields that would soon become roads and lots for houses. According to Whitney’s unpublished autobiography, the town of Hackettstown “had not yet grown as far as the lot” (Custard, 10).  The cornfield of 1865 had grown into the construction site of 1869, but it would be five more years before it became the Centenary Collegiate Institute.

Image

The view of North Hackettstown, taken from the location of the Institute.

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Description from the back of the photograph. There’s no date, but it was definitely taken between 1869 and 1895. The building was started in 1869, and Whitney was the President until 1895.

 

Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 -1943. New York: Lewis
Historical Publishing Company, Inc, 1947. Print.

Centenary Collegiate Institute. (April 28, 2014). 1874 – 1885 Catalogs.