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