In the beginning…

Every so often, I am prompted to think of Wabash as it was in the very beginning. Sometimes it is a research request which prompts these thoughts. At other times it is an image that I happen to see. So for these next few entries I thought it might be a nice thing to share our early history here…Enjoy!

In 1832, several leaders among the Presbyterians in this part of the state had been discussing the possibilities of creating a school. This image is taken from the Atlas of 1864 and shows the land which was offered by Williamson Dunn. Dunn had previously given the land on which Hanover was founded. He also donated the land for the fledgling Indiana Academy (which would become IU). James Thomson’s brick house where the founding meeting took place was where the R. R. Donnelly’s parking lot is now. At the time of our founding Crawfordsville was a very small town, only four blocks wide and five blocks tall. Near the top of the map is the area a few blocks north of our current campus where Forest Hall was built.

When Caleb Mills rang in the first class, the building was unpainted and all in all it made a humble start. In a letter from James Thomson to Williamson Dunn dated March 13, 1833, Thomson tells Dunn that for the time being they are calling the institution the “Crawfordsville Classical and English High School,” although they will apply for the charter next winter under another name. Thomson continues by saying that they will build a frame building – as they could not afford bricks.

An alumnus of that era described the scene many years later, “The ground was some distance northwest of the town, not far from Sugar Creek. No wagon road passed nearer than one or two hundred yards north of the building. The western limits of the town extended to what is now called Grant Ave. West of that all was native forest, except a small place a short distance west of this avenue on Main Street, where Nathaniel Dunn had his residence and tan yard; there were also other small clearings being opened up.”

“The students who lived or boarded in town, followed a path which passed between the Dunn residence and tan yard: thence northwest through the forest, crossing over two or three rail fences before reaching the College building.The building was frame, unpainted, three stories high including the basement.From the front facing South, where we entered, it was apparently only two stories, the ground sloping gently to the North, so the front entrance was on a level with the ground, while at the North it opened from a basement, also on a level with the ground.

“The basement was wholly occupied as a residence for the janitor’s family, who cared for the building and boarded the students, occupying the few rooms not used for chapel and recitations.

“As I remember, there were three student rooms in second and third stories. The chapel occupied the east half, less hall room, of the story above the basement. The southwest corner was President Baldwin’s recitation room. The Chapel was used by Professor Mills and the southeast and southwest rooms upstairs by Professors Hovey and Thomson.”


Beth Swift


Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana

The brothers Hopkins

In this picture we see the brothers Hopkins, both presidents of small liberal arts colleges. On the right is Louis Bertram Hopkins, the seventh president of Wabash. On the left is Ernest Martin Hopkins president of Dartmouth College. This photograph was taken at the inauguration of Louis at Wabash.

It has always interested me that these two brothers served at these two institutions at the same time. The connections between Dartmouth and Wabash are numerous…if we start at the beginning of Wabash, we must start with Edmund O. Hovey. A graduate of Dartmouth, Hovey attended the seminary and then came west to begin his life’s work. Present at the founding, Hovey put his life into Wabash by raising the money to open and then support this struggling little college on the frontier. He also taught at Wabash, housed students, served as secretary and treasurer. Hovey gave his life to Wabash.

Another Dartmouth man from our early history is Caleb Mills, a name well-known on campus. Mills graduated Dartmouth, attended seminary and applied for the position of first member of the faculty. Mills and Hovey had known each other back east, both at college and at Andover Seminary. Mills, like Hovey, was inspired to come to the west to bring education and religion to the people of the Wabash Country.

In another Dartmouth connection, our former president Thad Seymour was Dean of the College at Dartmouth when he accepted the presidency of Wabash College.

Back to the brothers Hopkins…Aside from some photos of the brothers at the inauguration, we have a more permanent link with Dartmouth, the architect Jens Frederick Larson.

Larson was the College Architect at Dartmouth and also designed our Chapel and Goodrich Hall. These two buildings sit side by side and form the southwest corner of our mall. They are, to my mind, the two handsomest building on campus.

This is a photograph of Hopkins’ inauguration in the Wabash gymnasium. While it is difficult to see at this size and resolution, the speaker at the podium is Ernest Hopkins who, we can assume, took a great deal of pride in speaking at his brother’s inauguration.

While the Hopkins presidency at Wabash was often fractious, it is widely accepted that the unpopular changes made were key to our later success. The reformation of the curriculum, the creation of the divisional system, senior comprehensive examinations, entrance standards and having more control over athletics were all changes implemented during President Hopkins’ tenure at Wabash.

While many alums bemoaned the death of Old Wabash, the faculty largely supported these changes. It was a hard presidency for Hopkins as Byron Trippet writes in his memoir, Wabash on My Mind, yet it created the Wabash of the 20th century. Our president Hopkins died in 1941, but his brother lived on until 1965. An interesting pair and one of many fascinating connections between our two schools.


Beth Swift


Downtown…where all the lights are bright!

This photograph is of downtown Crawfordsville in 1965. It was at the back of the 1965 yearbook along with supporters’ advertising.

I love this image as it shows our downtown in its vibrant heyday. Before big box stores. This was a time when you might walk in to a store to buy a pair of pants and the shopkeeper knew your name, your size and your likes/dislikes.

Since I enjoyed this image so much, I thought perhaps you might enjoy it as well…


Beth Swift