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Chapter 2
from A History of Amherst College by William S. Tyler 1830

Erection of the First College Edifice --- Inauguration of the President and Professors and Opening of the College.

At a meeting of the board of trustees of Amherst Academy, May 10, 1820, it was voted "that Samuel F. Dickinson, H. W. Strong, and Nathaniel Smith, Esquires, Dr. Rufus Cowles, and Lieut. Enos Baker be a committee to secure a good and sufficient title to the ten acres of land conditionally conveyed to the trustees of this academy as the site of said institution by the late Col. Elijah Dickinson, and for the special benefit of the charity fund; to digest a plan of a suitable building for said institution; to procure subscriptions, donations, or contributions for defraying the expense thereof; to prepare the ground and erect the same as soon as the necessary means can be furnished,---the location to be made with the advice and consent of the prudential committee."  At this meeting it was further resolved "that great and combined exertions of the Christian public are necessary to give due effect to the Charity Institution;" and Joshua Crosby, Jonathan Grout, James Taylor, Edwards Whipple, John Fiske, and Joseph Vaill were appointed agents to make application for additional funds, and for contributions to aid in erecting suitable buildings for the accommodation of students.

The committee proceeded at once to execute the trust committed to them, secured a title to the land, marked out the ground for the site of a building, the present South College, one hundred feet long, thirty feet wide and four stories high, and invited the inhabitants of Amherst friendly to the object to contribute labor and materials, with provisions for the workmen.  With this request, the inhabitants of Amherst friendly to the institution, together with some from Pelham and Leverett and a few from Belchertown and Hadley, cheerfully complied.  Occasional contributions were also received from more distant towns, even on the mountains.  The stone for the foundation was brought chiefly from Pelham by gratuitous labor, and provisions for the workmen were furnished by voluntary contributions.  Donations of lime, sand, lumber, materials of all kinds, flowed in from every quarter.  Teams for hauling, and men for handling and tending, and unskilled labor of every sort, were provided in abundance.  Whatever could be contributed gratuitously was furnished without money and without price.  The people not only contributed in kind but turned out in person, and sometimes camped on the ground and labored day and night, for they had a mind to work like the Jews in building their temple, and they felt that they too were building the Lord's house.  The horse-sheds which then ran along the whole line, east of the church, and west of the land devoted to the college, were removed.  The old Virginia fence disappeared.  Plow and scraper, pick-axe, hoe, and shovel, were all put in requisition together to level the ground for the building and dig the trenches for the walls.  It was a busy and stirring scene such as the quiet town of Amherst had never before witnessed, and which the old men and aged women of the town, who participated in it when they were boys and girls, were never weary of relating.  The foundations were speedily laid.  On the 9th of August they were nearly completed and ready for the laying of the cornerstone.  The walls went up, if possible, still more rapidly.  We doubt if there has been anything like it in modern times.  Certainly we have never seen or read of a parallel.  The story, as told by eyewitnesses and actors, is almost incredible.  "Notwithstanding," says Noah Webster, a man who was not given to exaggeration, "notwithstanding the building committee had no funds for erecting the building, not even a cent, except what were to be derived from gratuities in labor, materials, and provisions, yet they prosecuted the work with untiring diligence.  Repeatedly, during the progress of the work, their means were exhausted, and they were obliged to notify the president of the board that they could proceed no further.  On these occasions the president called together the trustees, or a number of them, who, by subscriptions of their own, and by renewed solicitation for voluntary contributions, enabled the committee to prosecute the work.  And such were the exertions of the board, the committee and the friends of the institution that on the ninetieth day from the laying of the corner-stone, the roof timbers were erected on the building."

"It seemed," exclaims President Humphrey, "it seemed more like magic than the work of the craftsmen!  Only a few weeks ago the timber was in the forest, the brick in the clay, and the stone in the quarry!"

The college well was dug at the same time and in very much the same way---that well from which so many generations of students have since drunk health and refreshment, and which is usually one of the first things that an Amherst alumnus seeks when he revisits his alma mater.  And "when the roof and chimneys were completed, the bills unpaid and unprovided for were less than thirteen hundred dollars."  Here the work was suspended for the winter.  But it was resumed in the spring, and then the interior of the building was finished by similar means, and with almost equal dispatch.

[Amherst College in 1821.]By the middle of June the building was so nearly completed that the trustees made arrangements for its dedication in connection with the inauguration of the president and professors, and the opening of the institution in September.  And before the end of September, not only was the edifice finished, but about half of the rooms were furnished for the reception of students, through the agency of churches and benevolent individuals, especially of the ladies in different towns in Hampshire and the adjoining counties.

We must now go back to give some account of the exercises at the laying of the corner-stone, the appointment of officers of the institution, and other measures preliminary to the dedication and the opening.

The following is the order of exercises at the laying of the corner-stone substantially as it was given to the public shortly after the occasion:  "On the 9th of August, 1820, the board of trustees of Amherst Academy, together with the subscribers to the fund then present, a number of the neighboring clergy and the preceptors and students of the academy, preceded by the building committee and the workmen, moved in procession from the academy to the ground of the Charity Institution.  The Throne of Grace was then addressed by Rev. Mr. Crosby of Enfield, and the ceremony of laying the corner-stone was performed by the Rev. Dr. Parsons, president of the board, in presence of a numerous concourse of spectators; after which an address was delivered by Noah Webster, Esq., vice-president of the board.  The assembly then proceeded to the church, where an appropriate introductory prayer was made by the Rev. Mr. Porter of Belchertown, a sermon delivered by the Rev. Daniel A. Clark of Amherst, and the exercises concluded with prayer by the Rev. Mr. Grout of Hawley.  The performances of the day were interesting, and graced with excellent music."

On the same day, at a meeting of the subscribers to the fund, they having been duly notified, the Rev. Nathaniel Howe of Hopkinton being chosen moderator, and the Rev. Moses Miller of Heath, secretary, the meeting was opened with prayer by the moderator, and the following gentlemen were then elected overseers of the fund, namely:  Henry Gray, Esq., of Boston, Gen. Salem Towne, Jr., of Charlton, Rev. Theophilus Packard of Shelburne, Rev. Thomas Snell of North Brookfield, Rev. Luther Sheldon of Easton, Rev. Heman Humphrey of Pittsfield, and H. Wright Strong, Esq., of Amherst.

The board of trustees of Amherst Academy at this time, who acted as trustees of the charity fund, was composed of the following members:  Rev. David Parsons, president; Noah Webster, vice-president; Rev. James Taylor, Rev. Joshua Crosby, Rev. Daniel A. Clark, Nathaniel Smith, Esq., Samuel F. Dickinson, and Rufus Graves.  After the public exercises of this occasion, Dr. Parsons resigned his seat in the board, and Noah Webster was elected president of the board.

By request of the trustees the address of Mr. Webster and the sermon of Mr. Clark were both printed and published.  In reading them, no thought strikes us so forcibly as the philanthropic, Christian, and missionary spirit of the founders.

The connection between the Charity Institution at Amherst, and those education societies which had sprung up a little earlier and were born of the same missionary spirit, could not but be very intimate and productive of most important results.  As early as September, 1820, a committee of the trustees was directed to correspond with the American Education Society on the subject of the terms on which the board might co-operate with that society in the education of their beneficiaries.  At a meeting of the board in November, 1820, the trustees passed a vote authorizing the prudential committee to receive into the academy as beneficiaries from education societies or elsewhere, charity students, not exceeding twenty.  In June, 1821, they voted that persons wishing to avail themselves of the charity fund as beneficiaries should be under the patronage of some education society or other respectable association which should furnish to each beneficiary a part of his support, amounting at least to one dollar a week, for which he was to be furnished with board and tuition.  They required also, that every applicant should produce to the examining committee satisfactory evidence of his indigence, piety and promising talents.

As the constitution required that the charity fund should forever be kept separate from the other funds of the institution, and under another financier, at a meeting November 8, 1820, the trustees appointed John Leland as their agent to receive all donations made for the benefit of the Charity Institution, other than those made to the permanent fund.  For this office, which he held fourteen years, Mr. Leland never received a salary of more than three hundred dollars.  At the same time the commissioner of the charity fund received only two hundred dollars per annum for his services.  It will be seen that the institution commenced on a basis of economy, in reference both to its officers and its students, which corresponded with its charitable object.

At a meeting of the trustees of Amherst Academy on the 8th of May, 1821, it was "Voted unanimously, That the Rev. Zephaniah Swift Moore be, and he is hereby, elected president of the Charity Institution in this town.

"Voted, That the permanent salary of the president of this institution for his services as president and professor of theology and moral philosophy be twelve hundred dollars, and that he is entitled to the usual perquisites."

At the same time the trustees resolved to build a house for the president, provided they could procure sufficient donations of money, materials, and labor.  They also decided that the first term of study in the institution should commence on the third Wednesday of September.  It is worthy of record that at this meeting they passed a vote prohibiting the students from drinking ardent spirits or wine, or any liquor of which ardent spirits or wine should be the principal ingredient, at any inn, tavern, or shop, or keeping ardent spirits or wine in their rooms, or at any time indulging in the use of them.  Thus early was temperance as well as economy established as one of the characteristic and fundamental principles of the institution.  It is an interesting coincidence that at this meeting in May, when President Moore was elected to the presidency, the Rev. Heman Humphrey of Pittsfield, who was destined to succeed him in the office, preached in accordance with a previous appointment "a very appropriate and useful sermon," for which he received "an address of thanks" by vote of the trustees.

In his letter of acceptance, dated Williamstown, June 12, 1821, President Moore insists that the classical education of the students shall be thorough.  "I should be wholly averse," he says, "to becoming united with any institution which proposes to give a classical education inferior to that given in any of the colleges in New England.  On this subject I am assured your opinion is the same as my own, and that you are determined that the course of study in the institution to which you have invited me shall not be inferior to that in the colleges in New England."

That the trustees were in perfect unison with the president in regard to these vital points to which he attached so much importance, they showed by voting in their meeting on the thirteenth day of June that the preparatory studies or qualifications of candidates for admission to the Charity Institution, and the course of studies to be pursued during the four years of membership, should be the same as those established in Yale College.  And that the public might not be left in doubt on these points, the president of the board soon after gave public notice in the newspapers, that "Young men who expect to defray the expenses of their education, will be admitted into the collegiate institution on terms essentially the same as those prescribed for admission into other colleges in New England."

At the same session, the trustees elected the Rev. Gamaliel S. Olds to be professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, and Joseph Estabrook to be professor of the Greek and Latin languages, and voted that the president and professors elect should be inaugurated and the college edifice dedicated with suitable religious services on the Tuesday next preceding the third Wednesday of September, and that Professor Stuart of Andover be invited to preach the dedication sermon.

At the time appointed, the 18th of September, 1821, the exercises of dedication and of inauguration were held in the parish church.  After introductory remarks by Noah Webster, Esq., president of the board, in which he recognized the peculiar propriety "that an undertaking having for its special object the promotion of the religion of Christ should be commended to the favor and protection of the great Head of the Church," and its buildings and funds solemnly dedicated to his service, a dedicatory prayer was offered by the Rev. Mr. Crosby of Enfield, and a sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. Leland of Charleston, S. C., from the text:  "On this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."  President Moore and Professor Estabrook, having publicly signified their acceptance and their assent to the confession of faith which had been prepared for the occasion, were then solemnly inducted into their respective offices by the president of the board, with promises of hearty co-operation and support by the trustees, and earnest prayers for "the guidance and protection of the great Head of the Church, to whose service this institution is consecrated."  A brief address was then delivered by each of them, and the concluding prayer was offered by the Rev. Mr. Snell of North Brookfield.  At the close of the exercises a collection was made for the benefit of the institution; and the corner-stone of the president's house was laid with the usual ceremonies.

The next day, September 19, the college was opened and organized by the examination and admission of forty-seven students, some into each of the four regular classes.  Of this number fifteen followed Dr. Moore from Williams College, a little less than one-third of the whole number at Amherst, and a little less than one-fifth of the whole number in the three classes to which they belonged in Williams College.  This was "a larger number, I believe," says Dr. Humphrey, "than ever had been matriculated on the first day of opening any new college.  It was a day of great rejoicings.  What had God wrought!"

 

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