Purple – College Development Zone (2000)
Grey – Roads
Brown – Railroad
Blue – River, Mill Race, Mill Pond
Wesleyan Seminary, 1841-1849
The origins of Albion College may be found in the Wesleyan Seminary, which first held classes in 1841. Local leaders from the Albion Company found it desirable to have an institution of education to attract people to their speculative land development scheme. So from its origins, business and education mixed, cooperating with a group of Methodist ministers to establish a Methodist seminary in Michigan.
Strong local leadership brought the Methodist affiliated seminary to Albion. Jesse Crowell served as a grantor of the Albion Company and grantee of the Wesleyan Seminary Board of Trustees whom the 60 acres for starting a seminary were granted to.
Female Collegiate Institute, 1850-1857
Albion Female College 1857-1861
A Female Collegiate Institute operated from 1850-1857 and the Albion Female College from 1857-1861, recognizing at an early time the importance of extending educational opportunity to women.
Albion College, 1861-present
The separate Wesleyan Seminary and Albion Female College finally joined together in 1861 when Albion College officially received its charter. In the two and a half decades since the seminary’s founding, the institution had changed from a locally supported seminary, similar to what we might call a high school, to an institution of higher education worthy of the title of college, granting degrees to both men and women.
Change and Challenge, Dickie and Laird
In 1869, Samuel Dickie began an association with Albion College that would extend five decades until his death in 1921. As professor of astronomy and mathematics, he led the effort to build the Observatory in 1888. As an active leader in the City of Albion, he served as Albion’s ninth mayor in 1896. As the national leader of the Prohibition Party he traveled to every major city in the country, attracting attention to both city and college. Dickie’s most important contribution was serving as college president from 1901-1921, overseeing the further advancement of the college.
Dickie was followed by John W. Laird as president from 1921 to 1924. Unlike Dickie whose decades of experience gave him a deep and meaningful understanding of both city and college, serving as a paternal care taker, Laird was an outsider and newcomer to Albion.
Instead of a seeing a city and college that had developed over a lifetime of service, he saw a small school in a dirty, noisy, and unattractive factory town. At first Laird suggested that the college move to land being offered in Jackson. He quickly retracted this proposal after being met by fierce opposition. Never able to gain support of his vision for a new city and college, on January 21, 1921, Laird was met in chapel service by a chorus of hissing, boos, catcalls, and stamping of feet at chapel service, walked out of the Chapel and leaving Albion College forever.
Seaton and Rising Standards
Laird was soon followed by John L. Seaton, who provided a continuity of leadership much like Dickie before him, also raising academic standards and improving the reputation of the college. Seaton navigated difficult times of the Great Depression and World War II. Among his proudest achievements were founding a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa national scholastic honorary on November 8, 1940. This was a powerful sign that Albion had moved from its simple local beginnings in seminary days, to a nationally regarded institution of higher education.
Separation of Campus from City
Advancements in academic reputation brought losses in other areas. Traditional historical connections with the surrounding city gave way to a more insulated and isolated campus. After World War II, plans commenced to demolish the old Methodist Church on Erie Street, removing this unique sign of connection between city and college. The new Goodrich Chapel that the congregation moved to, was on the location of several houses that once had important historical connections between city and college. When Goodrich Chapel was completed, a row of houses still stood between the chapel and Cass Street. None of these remain today.
An acute shortage of housing existed after World War II left veterans returning to college without a place to stay. This precipitated a movement to build on-campus housing, resulting in construction of Seaton Hall, Whitehouse Hall, Twin Towers, and the International House. Fraternity houses located throughout the city were determined to be inadequate and replaced by six nearly identical fraternity houses on the expanding campus in the 1960s.
Students of a similar age, increasingly placed together in close quarters in campus housing, caused a new and different form of student life to emerge, one that replaced traditional and historical relationships with the surrounding neighborhood and city at large, with a college more separate and isolated from the city. Lost were the opportunities of city as experiential learning place, of city as a place to live in, instead the shift to having student services and housing on campus, severed these traditional relationships that were Albion’s strength since its founding. Dissatisfaction among students of housing policy should then be no surprise, when conflicts arose in the 1970s when students challenged housing policies. After a series of fires and protests a more liberal housing policy was adopted, but student frustration with college housing conditions continued.
Creation and Destruction
Construction of new academic buildings accelerated the demolition of the neighborhood surrounding the college and demolition of historic college buildings as well. The Wesleyan Seminary’s first building, the Bell House, had been moved to a site off campus in 1881. In the 1970s it was demolished. Apparently the ties to history and tradition were not sufficiently strong to encourage preservation of this early and important college building. Other college buildings lost include the McMillan Laboratory, Old Gymnasium, fraternity houses as described above, the Eat Shop, and theGassette Memorial Library. Today the Epworth Laboratory is being considered for demolition as well.
Several other houses were demolished to make way for parking lots to satisfy the demands of a changing student body, coming primarily from areas outside of Albion, and each year more dependent on their personal automobiles. This growing number of cars required increasing space for them to sit parked, and of course students demanded parking close to their newly constructed on-campus housing, precipitating further destruction of the neighborhood around campus, and severing historical and traditional relationships that these buildings physically represented.
The campus arrived at its current from by the 1970s, the same time that the social and economic structure began to rapidly transform. Post-war economic boom, encouraged by arrival of Corning Glass Work in 1950, ended when that factory closed in 1975, and as other factory closings resulted in high unemployment, population flight, and declining tax revenues.
Visions, Relation of City and College Today
College leaders and especially college students remained isolated from social and economic change occurring in the city. Now, with students living on campus, the college continued to pursue academic excellence. In 1998 Peter T. Mitchell, the 14th president of Albion College, began a city visioning effort. Among his goals were to expand the tax base, find new jobs for the city, and to make Albion a leading American small town in the 21st century.
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