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History of Shurtleff College, Upper Alton


Carnegie Library, Shurtleff College, Alton, Illinois





Source:  Alton, Illinois - Reid's Brochure of a Notable American City, by James Allan Rein, 1912

Shurtleff College was the outcome of promptings, principally, of the heart and brain of the Rev. John M. Peck, one of those hardy, courageous pioneer preachers who came West early in the last century. He was an ardent Baptist who knew from personal experience the desirability of a collegiate training in equipping one for either a theological or other phase of professional life. To aid him in his cherished desire he "went up and down the country" - to the East a number of times on "horseback" - and succeeded finally in establishing the college, after a temporary existence in St. Louis, permanently in Upper Alton in 1836. It was named in honor of Dr. Benjamin L. Shurtleff, a wealthy Boston physician, who subscribed liberally towards it financing. The College is doing fine work, and has had among its students many who have in after life been distinguished, Gen. John Pope, a famous corps commander in the Union Army, among them. It is conducted on the same general principles as Brown, Yale, and Harvard in the East, the theological being an elective and not a necessity in its curriculum.











Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 7, 1853

George T. Brown, Esq., Sir - Last August I sent you, because I wished it published, the documentary history of the origin of Shurtleff College. By request of the Faculty, I now send you for publication, an account of the humble part which I acted in the trustee organization, and in teaching the school from its commencement, Sept. 1832 to June 13th, 1836. I then wrote in the third person, because my labor was in common with the Trustees. I now write in the first person, because the labor of bringing together men, who would unite in responsibility as Trustees, as well as the subsequent labor of teaching, was mostly individual, and an individual responsibility.


In moving to Illinois with my family in 1830, on board of a boat from Louisville to St. Louis, I was made known to Senator K**ne, returning from Washington to his family in Kaskaskia. Before leaving the boat, the Senator gave me a pressing invitation to visit Kaskaskia, pledging me an encouraging school, if, after looking around, I should wish to teach. Soon after arriving in the State, I received a commission to ride three months in the service of the Sabbath School. In fulfilling this commission, I obtained a general knowledge of the state of the Baptist church and ministry. Preaching I had hoped to make my labor; but finding that this demanded itinerancy, and absence from family beyond what seemed to me my duty, I concluded that I could best serve the interest of Christ by teaching youth. Accordingly, in November, I made it in my way to visit Kaskaskia, where, in a few hours negotiations were closed for opening a school. To Kaskaskia, therefore, with my children I shortly removed. In that town I continued in a pleasant and remunerating school, six quarters. In the fall of 1831, the late Dr. Going, sent out by Eastern Baptists, called on me and spent some days in my family. He stated that his official visit to Illinois was to see what could be done immediately and prospectively, most effectually to advance the interest of Christ's Kingdom - that from the information he had gathered, a Seminary, theological and literary, was of primary importance, and he expressed it as his decided opinion that it was my duty to remove north to Alton, and to make an effort to raise such a Seminary. I replied, that the subject had been on my mind, and had already taken deep hold of my heart, and, though it might be accompanied with heavy pecuniary sacrifices, I might probably make an effort.


Accordingly, in the winter of 1832, I wrote to a friend in Alton stating my thoughts and wishing his opinion. He returned answer expressing doubt of its practicability. Yet, not long after, I wrote again, stating that my mind was made up to move north and to call at Alton and see what could be done. Though the Alton friend discouraged, yet I had some confidence of success, for I could show to friends, that the enterprise, without risk of material loss, might greatly enhance their prosperity; and that the risk would be on my part, a stranger, ready to settle with them, or with any other, in an eligible location, who would become co-workers in the enterprise. They might well be appalled at the proposal of buying land, and putting up a building, and sending a thousand miles for a teacher, and engaging to meet his traveling expenses and his salary, while wholly uncertain whether he would answer expectation. But the proposal of profit, without risk, I thought might gain the ear and heart, and prevail. Accordingly, though pressed by the late Judge Pope, and other gentlemen of high standing and wealth, to give them terms on which I would continue my school in Kaskaskia, yet duty pressed my removal north. And on the first of April, I boxed my goods and took passage on a boat for Alton.


In the morning after landing, I had an interview with brethren Stephen Griggs and William Manning Jr., recent emigrants from Boston, and found them ready to engage in my feasible plan. Soon after I arrived in Upper Alton, and commenced the survey of that place as a site of a Baptist Seminary; - inquired for the school house, was led to brick walls 24 by 30, roofed - and was informed that these walls had been standing thus erected about three months, and that the beginners were not able to finish. I inquired for their school, was taken to a log cabin, story and a half high, one room on a floor, and the door being opened was introduced to Mrs. Bailey, in the midst of her school, and on ascending on the right a flight of steps, was introduced to Rev. Alvin Bailey in his study; lighted through the stairway, and a small window in the end of the cabin. This cabin was also the meeting house for the church on the Sabbath. Of course the cleaning, and cooking, and eating were done during the recesses of the school. Thus lived the indefatigable minister and his wife; and this in the church, which in regard to the support of the pastor was in advance of the two hundred Baptist churches in the State. This may deserve to be told, when Baptist ministers shall no longer be straightened in salary, to show to what straights a pioneer Baptist minister and his accomplished and intellectual lady were pushed in the early settlement of the State. And if ever a daguerreotype shall be taken of Shurtleff College, by the side should be placed, if permitted by Mr. Baily, the daguerreotype of that cabin, and of Mrs. Baily in her school and of Mr. Baily in his study above. These appearances were not flattering, yet did not abate zeal in regard to a Seminary. Patient, self-denying labor might succeed.


In the meantime, the friends in Edwardsville had engaged for one quarter, a school for me. I accordingly, with my children, removed to that town; and accepted the proffered hospitality of the hospitable Dr. B. F. Edwards, of board of myself and of a son, and providing board in another family for my other children, I opened the school. This residence with Dr. Edwards gave opportunity in full to consult in regard to the Seminary, and to find him as ready as Griggs and Manning to join in any feasible plan. Other friends in Edwardsville would join on condition the Seminary should be located with them, not otherwise. And they advanced arguments not a few, to locate it with them, such as a tolerable school house and a population able to maintain a respectable school, &c. Yet Alton, though, then very forbidding, prospectively had advantages, especially the very important one, ease of access by the Mississippi. And Alton it was settled should be the site of the Seminary.


Thus on the show of $*000, reserved for securing land, and the understanding that the school should be maintained, without material pecuniary liability of the Trustees, beyond that of school room, I found three Baptists, B. F. Edwards, Stephen Griggs and William Manning, and one Presbyterian, Enoch Long, ready to join in the enterprise. Accordingly I drew an article of agreement, an exceedingly embarrassing one to frame. The difficult point was to secure Trustees who would through ages continue the Seminary in close connection with those Baptists, well known, and ordinarily designated through Illinois, by the name, missionary Baptist.      Rev. Hubbel Loomis




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 29, 1854

Mr. Editor Brown - I see by the late numbers of the Alton Courier that has come up here to Pekin, that a shocking display is going on in print as to who is the "paternal relative" of Shurtleff College, which institution, I am told, is situated somewhere in the neighborhood of Upper Alton. The Rev. Hubbel Loomis has written a "history" to prove that he is the father of the College, and says he loves it dearly for it is his own child. But the Rev. Dr. P**** has come out with his bundle of "facts," and proved equally strong that Mr. Loomis is not the true father of the child, and hints pretty plainly that he, himself, is. I am most desput [sic] sorry to see too such worthy clergymen at loggerheads, or it is always the case when the clergy drive at each other - it is "go it boots," with them. Now, Mr. Editor Brown, I want much to settle this dispute amicably between them; for I ***orfully afeard they will make a horrid breach in the church by thus lamming away at each other, and I shouldn't wonder if they made a pair of breaches before they have done with the College dispute.  Why can't they agree that each is the father of Shurtleff College, and each had a hand in the child? Bless your body, Mr. Editor Brown! Many a child has two fathers, and some of them half a dozen, at least. There is one up in our part of the Sucker State, that I dessay, if the truth was known, had forty. Of course, literary children is what I speak of Madam; so don't get into a "sterricky fit," if you please, madam, about what I have just said.    Cousin Ichabod Bone




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, July 13, 1854

I see no profit or honor to be gained in contending with the venerable old gentleman who has been put forward as a claimant to the paternity of Shurtleff College. Could I reach the person or persons who committed the misdemeanor against the fundamental principles and rules of corporate bodies, by furnishing extracts from the Book of Records, I could afford to give him or them a severe castigation. But for two old men, whose memories cannot be relied on, to quarrel in the papers and bespatter each other's garments in a matter so exceedingly trivial, is surely too ridiculous for the wisdom and gravity of age. Some apparently young and facetious writer of the "Bone Family" has presented the subject in its true light. The intention of my former replication was to stop, if possible, an exposure of facts and events from June 1836 to 1850, which had far better be forgotten.


It is enough for me at present to refer to Dr. B. F. Edwards of St. Louis, and George Smith, Esq., of Upper Alton, for proof that the project of Shurtleff College (at first Alton Seminary) was contemplated, arranged, a subscription raised to erect the first building of some $1,500 or $2,000, and negotiations for the land commenced by certain gentlemen, while Mr. Loomis was teaching a seminary in Kaskaskia. Probably he has forgotten what my journal testifies (habitually kept of all these and other events), that the writer, by the special request of these gentlemen, rode through deep mud to Kaskaskia on the 28th and 29th of February 1832, for the special purpose of engaging Mr. Loomis to relinquish his school there and remove to Alton; that the plan was to have him engage in a school temporarily, as a preparatory step to entering the seminary as Principal, soon as the building then projected could be made ready. He is certainly not to be blamed for not recollecting the repeated interviews and correspondence between Dr. Edwards and the writer; for probably he knew nothing about them. Dr. Edwards was at first in favor of the location at Edwardsville, but subsequently he yielded his predilections and entered cordially into the views of the gentlemen at Upper Alton.


Probably he has forgotten being present at the annual meeting of the Trustees of Rock Spring Seminary, held July 20th, 1831, where he was courteously invited to a seat with the late Rev. J. Going, from Massachusetts, when the following resolutions were discussed and unanimously adopted:

Resolved, That the Trustees will hold themselves ready to receive proposals from any quarter in this part of the State, and consider the propriety and expediency of a change in the location.


Resolved, That James Lemen, Hubbel Loomis, B. F. Edwards, George Churchell, James Pulliam, J. M. Peck and George Stacey be a committee to ascertain the wishes of the stockholders and the public in relation to a change in the location of this Seminary, and what further steps can be taken to put the Seminary on a respectable standing, and report at the next meeting.

Doubtless he has forgotten that this committee met at Edwardsville on the 26th July, 1831, and all were present but George Churchell, Esq. The late Rev. J. Going was present, and had an important part to perform in giving advice to this committee. Mr. Loomis probably was entirely ignorant of the fact that for some months previous a correspondence had taken place between the writer and REv. Dr. Going, relative to the conversations already alluded to with individuals who were in favor of a removal of the Institution to Edwardsville or Alton, and that this subject had a specific place in the mind of Mr. Going in visiting this State.


The writer looked to him as a kind of representative of Eastern patrons, who had contributed liberally to establish that Institution, and did not deem it wise or prudent to encourage the project without his approbation. From the resolutions adopted by that committee and placed on the Book of Records now before me, I select the following:

Resolved, That a sub-committee of three persons be appointed to receive proposals from Alton, or such other place or places as they deem expedient, to encourage the location of the Seminary.

B. F. Edwards, Paris Mason and Ephraim Marsh were appointed. The proposals were reported verbally, and led the Trustees of Rock Spring Seminary to relinquish their claims to the location, and justified them in removing their library and other property at a subsequent time.


A slight error in date was made in my first communication. It was not in July, but in June, after our return from the organization of the Edwardsville association, that the Rev. J. Going, Dr. Edwards and the writer returned to Alton (as Upper Alton was then called), and made the exploration referred to, as George Smith, Esq., doubtless recollects, and which is recorded specifically in my journal of June 28th-30th.


The affairs of the Seminary and its removal were topics of frequent consultation between Rev. Mr. Going and certain brethren during the period of the association. Rev. Mr. Loomis was not there, and probably knew nothing of our arrangements. The meeting of June 4th, 1832, which Mr. L considers as the commencement of his "fatherly" claim, was the consummation of a series of consultations and plans begun more than twelve months previous. He was one of the number who officiated at the birth, and as he paid his perquisite for the new dress, and performed the duties of nurse, there is no objection to his being regarded an an accoucheur [a person who assists during childbirth].


The writer occupied a delicate and important position as the reputed "father" of Rock Spring Seminary, and did not deem it expedient to be known as one of the Trustees in the new organization. He had a duty to perform in preparing the minds of patrons in the Atlantic States, and of numerous friends of the Institution in Illinois and Missouri, that no unpleasant feelings might result from the transfer. It was regarded by him as sound policy. He was consulted in every step taken, and gave his approbation to every measure adopted, both before and subsequent to the organization of the new Board on June 4th, 1832.


And now, Mr. Editor, a word in your ear, if you please. When I sat on the tripod, which has been over twenty years of my life, I had a few common sense rules for my government as editor. One was to permit no controvertist to publish more than two communications on one subject. This is the common sense of mankind in all oral discussions, and why should not the editor of a newspaper act the presiding officer in all paper debates, and apply the rule to all controvertists? In all Parliamentary and judiciary proceedings, no man is permitted to make more than two speeches. Why should the pen and press be made a "perpetual motion!" This rule, if strictly applied by editors, would work well and put a stop to the ravages of that dangerous disease called by school boys cacoethes scribendi. The "free discussions" of clergymen are characterized for freedom and boundless extension, often to the grief and annoyance of their readers. My statements in these replications are mere intimations of materials in great abundance, but held in reserve for such "Documentary History." But I have a lurking suspicion that were I to discharge a tithe of the contents of my "documentary" budget into the columns of your paper, it would not pay for the ink wasted, to say nothing of improper feelings engendered in the community. My judgment coincides with your interest, that in all such controversy you "shut down the valve" after the steam has been let off, twice, with the expressive sign, "refused."  Signed J. M. P. [John Mason Peck], Rock Spring, Illinois, June 30th, 1854.




ANDREW CARNEGIE [1835-1919, wealthy Scottish philanthropist who made his money in the steel industry] TO $15,000 OF $30,000 LIBRARY BUILDING AND MORE EXPECTED ... ROCKEFELLER SCOFFS AT GIVING

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, March 5, 1907

Andrew Carnegie, who says it is a crime to die rich, has promised to give Shurtleff college $15,000, which will be half the cost of a proposed library building. The college must raise $15,000 and Carnegie will give the remainder. The promise to give this sum to Shurtleff is the result of long correspondence which began last April.  Andy Carnegie, the canny Scot, had one objection to giving any money to Shurtleff. He had heard that the college was educating too many students free of charge, and with the thrift characteristic of his people, Carnegie entered a vigorous protest against it. He told college President Riggs, who has been carrying on the correspondence, that he did not believe in educating anyone free of charge, as he seemed to believe Shurtleff was doing with most of its students, and he expressed a belief that the students should pay. President Riggs had considerable difficulty in persuading Carnegie that the system being followed by Shurtleff with regard to divinity students who were unable to help themselves, or students of any other denomination than Baptists, was perfectly proper and was doing a good work among a class of young men who would have something to show for their advantages and benefactions later on. Carnegie at last agreed to waive his objections, and the sum will be forthcoming as soon as Shurtleff can raise her share. Dr. Riggs said that he is confident that the college will have an endowment fund of $150,000 to announce by commencement season. Another attempt will be made to get something from Rockefeller, who is giving large sums to Baptist colleges. Rockefeller, it is said by a former trustee of Shurtleff, formed a bad opinion of Shurtleff college through an incognito visit he made there many years ago. He is said to have registered at the Madison hotel as "John Davis," and then went to Shurtleff college to make a personal inspection. He found the president of the institution, at that time, working as a day laborer. It was the practice of the then president to get some physical exercise by doing hard work to keep his health in good trim. "John Davis," as he was then, snorted, sniffed and turned around and left the place. It has been a very difficult task to remove the hasty impression he gathered through that incognito visit. It is hoped, however, that it will be possible to remove the bad impression by showing that it is not the custom of the college president to earn his salary by doing a day laborer's work, and that the president of Shurtleff college is very much like other college presidents.....




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, August 8, 1910

Robert T. Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, has written to the regents of Shurtleff college for a photographic copy of a large oil painting of his father, which has hung for many years in Shurtleff college chapel. The painting was made from life, evidently before the day when Lincoln was president, by A. J. Conant, now living or supposed to be alive in New York City. Mr. Conant belonged to a family which formerly lived in Upper Alton, and it is said that Lincoln sat for the picture at Springfield. It shows Lincoln without the beard. The son had evidently heard of the picture being in Shurtleff college, and he wants to see a copy of it. Dr. Ray will have a photograph made and will send it to the only son of Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Conant was prominent as an artist and was connected with Shurtleff college fifty years ago. The painting is fully fifty years of age. It is believed to have been made about the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.





Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, November 29, 1912

Fire destroyed the Martha Wood Cottage, the home of the Shurtleff college co-eds, Thanksgiving afternoon. The cause of the fire is not thoroughly established, and it is attributed to the heating plant, although there was practically no fire in it, the building having been vacated by all its tenants for the holiday. President Potter said that he believed the furnace did start the fire, but that the flames must have long smoldered before breaking out. The peculiar feature of the fire was that the furnace is in one corner of the building and the flames burst forth in the corner diagonally opposite, showing the fire had traveled a long distance before making itself manifest. The building, which was erected by private subscription in 1888, was of brick, two stories in height, and although there was nobody in the place, the girls had left much of their clothing in the building while they went away to spend Thanksgiving. The loss to students will be heavy....




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, February 6, 1915

Press dispatches have carried news of the death of Alban Jasper Conant, in the 94th year, at his home in New York Thursday. The death of Mr. Conant is of unusual interest to Alton people, in that he lived here many years ago, and one of his most celebrated paintings, the portrait of Abraham Lincoln, now hanging in Shurtleff College, is known to many Alton people. Mr. Conant has lived with his daughter, Mrs. Carrie Conant Smith in New York. A few years ago, when failing eyesight caused him to give up painting, the daughter of the old man sent for Paul Harney of Alton, to go east and paint some pictures the aged man was vainly trying to make. There was nothing but hideous daubs to show on the canvass where the old painter was trying to put the results of what he believed was his old time skill. To make the pictures presentable, the Alton artist was employed and he finished them. He had painted many historic pictures as well as portraits of famous men. The picture of Lincoln hanging in Shurtleff college is one of the few paintings from life, and is of great value. Mr. Conant was a student of archaeology, and in the early days he made many researches in the vicinity of Alton to bring to light long buried relics. He wrote a book on the subject "Footprints of Vanished Races of the Mississippi Valley." Conant's death was unexpected, as he was around as usual the day before the end came. Beside his daughter he leaves one son, A. J. Conant Jr.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, December 30, 1918

Shurtleff College, founded by John M. Peck, will be 92 years old on Wednesday - New Year's Day. The college was organized at Rock Spring, Ill., and the first board of trustees for the institution was formed on New Year's Day, 1827. The college continued in existence five years from that date, and was then moved to Upper Alton, where it has continued ever since. The 92nd commencement of Shurtleff College will be held next spring.


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