Professor Albert Overton Hammond

PROFESSOR ALBERT O. HAMMOND

Over the years, Centenary University has had many supporters devoted to its success. Professor A. O. Hammond is no exception; he dedicated over forty years to Centenary as a teacher of Greek and Latin, stood by the school through its extreme highs and lows, and earned the respect of students and staff alike.

Professor Albert Overton Hammond

Professor Albert Overton Hammond

Professor Albert Overton Hammond joined the Centenary Collegiate Institute (CCI) faculty in 1878 as the head of the Classical Languages and Literature Department. He taught Greek and Latin, serving Centenary for forty-six years before retiring in 1924. A “scholar and gentlemen, [Professor Hammond] stood by CCI through prosperity and adversity, gaining the sincere respect and even reverence of generation after generation of CCI college preparatory students” (Custard, 63). In 1917, Hammond wrote the “History of the Centenary Collegiate Institute Compiled from Original Documents and from the Memory of Events Quorum pars parva fuit by Albert O. Hammond, A.M., during forty years a Member of the Faculty of C.C.I.”. Thanks to his manuscript, a great deal is known about the early years of Centenary. The book Through Golden Years describes Professor Hammond’s manuscript as a “priceless original source from which copious quotations have been made” (Custard, ix-x).

Professor Hammond was essential to Centenary’s success. When the school building was destroyed in the fire of 1899, the President and the Board of Trustees decided that the students and faculty would be dismissed until a new building could be constructed. Professor Hammond strenuously objected, feeling that the students should be able to continue their education uninterrupted. It was left to him to “open and conduct the school during the year 1900 – 1901…with the understanding that he should be financially responsible for the undertaking” (Custard, 89). He ultimately accepted the proposal. Thirty-four students remained in school, taking their classes in a rented hall and boarding with local families. Professor Hammond and recent Goucher College graduate Miss Hannah M. Voorhees each taught eight classes a day. Their hard work meant there would be no break in the continuity of Centenary’s history – no year without a graduating class.

postcard 47

While Professor Hammond taught classes in a rented hall, the new Main Building was being built.

The students of Centenary called Hammond their ‘Beloved Instructor’ and dedicated the 1906 yearbook to him. In 1940, he and his wife, who taught art at Centenary for twelve years, were honored with the Hammond Memorial Gates. A residence hall was dedicated in his honor in 1956 (it was located off the traditional campus, and was at some point sold). “Invariably too, alumni speak with admiration, even veneration, of Professor Hammond, the scholar and gentleman, dignified, kindly, serious, yet with a sense of humor.”

Here follows a letter of thanks to Professor Hammond from an alumnus of CCI:

“While I was at C.C.I., I never did very much with my Greek; I gave too much time to other things and especially foot-ball, but later I realized, as you told us one day in class, its inestimable value to tone’s education and from that time on I made Greek and Greek culture as much a part of myself as possible. So that during the war, serving for two years and four months as a Y.M.C.A. secretary, I was able to entertain and instruct the boys with many a pleasant Greek story; this was especially true during the time I was serving at the front. So you see that you too were serving unwittingly. I wanted you to know this and to thank you for all you have done for me, even though my gratitude is expressed rather late.”

Professor Hammond was greatly missed after he retired but long remembered by students and staff for his contributions to campus life.

 

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.

 

 

THROUGH GOLDEN YEARS

Through Golden Years

Through Golden Years, 1867 – 1943

Whenever I do any research on Centenary College’s early years, I always first consult this book. Through Golden Years is a treasure trove of facts and remembrances that the archives staff uses all the time. Written between 1944 and 1947, it was published for the 75th anniversary of the college.

The book is part earlier manuscript, part unpublished autobiography, part research, and part interview. When beginning their project, Centenary Collegiate Institute was considering publishing an earlier manuscript written by a long time professor, “History of the Centenary Collegiate Institute Compiled from Original Documents and from the Memory of Events Quorum pars parva fuit by Albert O. Hammond, A.M., during forty years a Member of the Faculty of C.C.I.”, with additional chapters that would bring the report to the current year. They decided that there was enough new information and access to new resources for old information that they would start at the beginning.

Professor Albert Overton Hammond

Professor Albert Overton Hammond, author of an earlier history of C.C.I.

Leila Roberta Custard, faculty member at C.C.I., was chosen to write the new history. She was a graduate of Goucher College and received a Doctorate of Philosophy degree from the University of Southern California. She had a unique relationship with Centenary; her father was part of the conference that started the school, and her brother was an alumnus. In writing the updated history, she relied not only on Hammond’s manuscript, but also the autobiography of the first president, Dr. Whitney, written for his children under strict orders that it never be published. Custard used these documents as well as documents from the archives of Centenary and Hackettstown, and numerous student/staff accounts of their time at the college.

One of many pages of Custard's notes. This note was written using the back of a student's examination booklet cover.

One of many pages of Custard’s notes. This note was written using the back of a student’s examination booklet cover.

She wrote copious notes as she did her research, and sent letters out to staff and alumni requesting any humorous or memorable stories regarding their years at Centenary. The library has hundreds of pages of her correspondence and research. She wrote on any type of scrap paper, including using the blank pages left over from her students’ examination booklets. The letters to and from students display the cordial nature of correspondence at that time; when her research time was split by a trip to Chile as an exchange professor, students wrote to her hoping that the trip would not impede her research or prevent her from finishing the book. Custard spent two semesters in Chile in 1945, and as soon as she returned, she went right back to work and had the manuscript ready to present during the 75th anniversary event.

Leila R. Custard ceremonially hands over the finished manuscript

Leila R. Custard ceremonially hands over the finished manuscript.

Through Golden Years is a diamond in the rough. It may look unassuming in its simple blue cover, but on the inside, there are years of rich history bursting through the pages. We learn something new every time we look in it!