Peeking into the past…

Last week I gave a presentation on the Elston family. It was a story of a family and of a town – our town of Crawfordsville. The Elstons had a huge influence on Crawfordsville and on the state of Indiana. The homeplace of the Elstons now serves as the home of the Wabash College president and has become a part of our college’s history. As the first brick house built in Crawfordsville, it was the home of one of the richest men in Indiana. The furnishings, draperies and rugs were imported from back east and New Orleans. It was evidently a sight to see – the young Lew Wallace crept up to the windows to see what a piano was and how it worked.

The house is now a lovely old home on East Pike Street with all of the modern amenities. When one enters the front door they gaze down the hall under the stairway. Here’s the thing though, we now enter the house from what was originally the back door. The photo above, taken in 1880 shows the home as it was originally. Atop a slight rise with a long walk from Main Street to its double doors. When a visitor in the 1800’s entered the Major’s home, the view was of the lovely staircase rising to the second floor. In 1910 two lots north of the homestead were sold and two houses were built on Main Street. Lovely old homes – twins except for their exteriors – one of stone and one of yellow brick – they feel today like they have always been there.  When this sale of lots occurred, the entrance to the home was switched from the north side of the home to the south side, or the current orientation.

One thing I have always wondered about the Elston Homestead is the current wrought iron front porch. Was that added later or was it original to the house? With this photo scanned and enlarged, I can see that in 1880 the entry had a wrought iron porch.

Looking at an image of the porch of today, this looks like either the same structure moved to this façade or a very good recreation of the original. We do know that the south side of the house had a different porch at one time as we can see in this photograph of Ike Elston coming out of the door on the south side.

So we can see that this porch was replaced with the one of today – which just might be the one of a hundred and fifty years ago. By having these old photos and using the zoom feature, I can really look very closely at these images. I hope that you enjoyed this little bit of trivia about the Elston Homestead. While it is a small thing really, it is a pretty clear example of what I mean when I say, “Peeking into the past.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Beth Swift
Wabash College

Whose bell is it anyway?

What a rich set of traditions surround this game! The rivalry goes back a long way and the Battle for Bell is a part of every Wabash man’s history since 1932. We are always proud to display the bell and like to think of it as ours…this is just as it should be since the bell was given to the rivalry in 1932,our centennial year! It seems a fitting 100th birthday present.

So here is a funny story about the bell and the archivists of Wabash and DePauw…Wes Wilson, the archivist at DePauw is just a great fellow who is universally respected for his archival knowledge and superior management skills – the Archives at DePauw are just a wonderful resource! No surprise to me then when I saw that Wes was to speak at the national convention of the Society of American Archivists a couple of years ago as he is that prominent in the field. I entered the room along with about 30+ other archivists and prepared to listen to Wes as he spoke about accessioning – the process in which an artifact or collection becomes a part of the archives. Really a great presentation on the nuts and bolts.

Things were going along swimmingly until Wes showed a slide of an accession, complete with number, of the MONON BELL!!! Now hold on a minute I thought – you can’t accession that bell – you don’t own it and only have it on your campus from time to time! Being polite, as I am, I thought it best to wait until the end of his presentation – but then I pounced!

Wes, with his typical friendly smile saw me approach and, of course, knew what was to come next. He offered that of all the archivists in the world to pop into his presentation – there was only one who might object at his use of visual aids – me!   Wes explained that he had simply used the bell as a demonstration item and we declared no harm, no foul in this instance and laughed heartily over the affair.

So a salute to Wes and his good work at DePauw BUT let’s just make sure that the bell returns to Crawfordsville where we can keep a close eye on it!!

Beth Swift
Wabash College

In the beginning…

One of the notable characteristics of our Archives here at Wabash is their lack of summary history. In other words, all too often we find information scattered through several files. During the course of his retirement from the chemistry faculty, Dr. David Phillips has been doing a fair bit of research here in the Archives. He has researched a variety of topics and provided us with his excellent summaries.

What I love about David’s work is that it is always expertly researched and succinctly presented. David has been working for the past several months on a project that I hold dear – he has created biographies of all of the men whose portraits hang in the Chapel.  These biographies will be printed in a book available in the Chapel for anyone who might want to know who these fellows were and why their portraits hang in this special place, the Pioneer Chapel.

Because his work is so well done, I thought it would be great to share it with more than just those who visit the Chapel. What follows is the first of the biographies. Hovey is first because as David has said rightly, and so often, “In the beginning there was Hovey.”

Beth Swift
Archivist, Wabash College

Edmund Otis Hovey

Trustee (1832-1877), Professor (1834-1877)

by David A. Phillips

“The story of Hovey’s Life from 1832 to his death is the history of the college itself.”

Osborne and Gronert, Wabash College –The First Hundred Years

Born in Hanover, New Hampshire and raised in Thetford, Vermont, Edmund Otis Hovey graduated from Dartmouth College in 1828 and from Andover Seminary in 1831. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister on September 21 and married two weeks later. The newly-wedded couple immediately set forth on the arduous journey to Indiana, where Hovey established himself as the only Presbyterian minister in Fountain County, about twenty miles northwest of Crawfordsville.

Hovey was among the group of Presbyterian ministers and laymen who met in James Thomson’s home in Crawfordsville on September 21, 1832, to consider the establishment of a new college. The minutes of that meeting are in Hovey’s hand. The next day he was elected as one of the eight original trustees of The Wabash Teachers’ Seminary and Manual Labor College (the name was changed to Wabash College in 1851).

Hovey chose the College’s first professor and its first two presidents, and he was one of its major fundraisers. He was the first librarian and later served as college treasurer for twenty-six years. He was secretary of the faculty and of the executive committee of the board of trustees until his death in 1877.

Although trained for the ministry, Hovey had been interested in science since his late teens. After some initial hesitation, he was persuaded to accept the professorship of chemistry and natural science, and in 1855 he became the first Rose Professor of Chemistry and Geology. He was a serious scientist, giving carefully prepared demonstration lectures in chemistry and amassing a “cabinet” of fossils, minerals and botanical specimens that ultimately contained over 26,000 items and enjoyed a national reputation as one of the most complete collections of its time.

Hovey was revered for his character and intellect. He “was an enthusiastic teacher, taking the greatest pleasure not only in the studious youth, but in a chemical experiment and in a geological specimen… He was an elegant writer, a graceful speaker, an attentive listener, and an entertaining conversationalist… There was a quiet dignity in his manner that restrained boys in the class-room, who elsewhere were rude, and developed in them a politeness that had not been manifested away from his presence.”

Edmund Otis Hovey died on March 10, 1877. He had lived to see his beloved college become a prosperous and well-regarded institution.

Music Man

Carroll Ragan [W1901] is a name still familiar to some on campus – which is just as it should be…Ragan, along with Ted Robinson, wrote “Dear Old Wabash”, our fight song. Ragan was the music man and Robinson gave us the words that all freshmen are supposed to know by Homecoming. There are those who could tell you that Ragan also wrote the Alma Mater. The picture above is from the Viewbook of 1898. Ragan is on the front row, 3rd from the right, in this photograph of the Mandolin and Glee Club.  Ragan left Wabash prior to finishing his degree which was a decision that he later regretted. But he always kept dear old Wabash close to his heart.

From information in the historic New York Times, we learn that his musical career did not end with his stay at Wabash. When WWI came along Ragan composed the “Wabash War Song.”  In the early 1920’s he was writing both words and music for musical comedies.  An article from April of 1925 reported on the performance of the Wall Street Follies, an amateur theatrical troupe, of a piece called “Done in Oil.” Ragan wrote both the book and the music. The play was very well received before a hospital benefit crowd of 2,000 in the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom.

The next year’s activities are described by Ragan in a letter to his nephew, Carroll Eben Black. Writing to his namesake, who was a student at Wabash in January of 1926, Ragan said, “I am very busy now getting ready for the Wall Street Follies. I have written a good deal of the music and lyrics but am not doing any coaching this year. We play at the Manhattan Opera House January 29 and will possibly take the show to Philadelphia later.”

Carroll Ragan was a creative young man – surely an advantage in his “day job” as an advertising executive. Following his employment in Illinois as the editor of a small town newspaper, Ragan headed to New York City. He secured a job as publicity man for the American Real Estate Corporation. In 1916 he moved to the United States Mortgage and Trust Company where he was publicity manager. A successful ad executive, Ragan often used his musical talents for the benefit of his clients.

One of the really nice aspects of this story is the connection to Wabash over the generations of the Ragan family. Carroll Ragan’s father was a Wabash man [Dr. Gillum Taylor Ragan W1860], as was his nephew Carroll Black [W1928] as was his great-nephew Carroll Ragan Black [W1966]. In fact until just last year Cal was a member of our Advancement team. For a great article about Cal and his family see

So many families have this sort of connection with this place. There are many legacies in our history and there are even a few families whose connection stretches back to the very first class. New legacies are created every year as well. Each year, at commencement, Public Affairs takes photos of the legacies in the graduating class. To see the photos from the Class of 2009 click here

It is a wonderful thing to see the traditions passed from father to son, down through the decades. Creating generation after generation of loyal sons for Dear Old Wabash, as the song suggests and just as Carroll Ragan was in his time, is worthy work that continues yet today.

Beth Swift
Archivist, Wabash College

Ezra Pound’s birthday

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I was listening, as I do most days, to the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. Today, I was surprised to hear, is the poet Ezra Pound’s birthday. There followed a brief sketch of this controversial poet, largely credited with inventing “modern poetry”. As Keillor started to talk about Pound’s brief time at Wabash College – he taught here from start of school in September of 1907 until February of 1908 – I waited to hear what might follow. Imagine my delight when it was noted that although he was fired out of prudery – he was paid the remainder of his year’s salary. The narrative continued by adding that this money propelled the poet to England where he began the literary life that would bring him such success.

left – Ezra Pound’s Wabash faculty photograph – the only member of the faculty not to face the camera.

Below left – Scan of the College Cash Book showing payout to Pound of $200 (per G.L.M.) authorized by President Mackintosh

So in honor of the day, I have gathered three links to pieces about Ezra Pound and Wabash College. Each was written by an alumnus, from very different perspectives and all are fascinating looks at this small slice of our history. Enjoy!

“I probably would never have gotten hooked had I not discovered the story on my own. I was studying late one night in the dark recesses of Yandes Library searching through back issues of The Wabash to prepare for a speech about those early Little Giant basketball teams that became national powerhouses. I turned a page and there was the striking profile photo whose caption read: PROF. EZRA POUNDS/Romance Languages.”

“I could hardly contain my excitement as I rushed into the next room and brought back a biographical dictionary. Comparing colleges and dates from the entry on Pound, I quickly confirmed that, in spite of the misspelling of his last name, it was indeed the celebrated poet who had come to teach at Wabash in the fall of 1907.” – Jim Rader [W1960]

“Good Presbyterians have standards of rectitude in financial matters as well as sexual ones,” says Placher. “Wabash had signed a contract with Mr. Pound to pay him a year’s salary, and so they did.” It was the Indiana college’s generous—and probably unnecessary—payout that financed Pound’s subsequent exploits in Italy’s greener pastures. Redman further notes that Mackintosh, typically painted as the villain in the Pound Affair, soon regretted his rash decision to dismiss Pound (and probably sensed the young teacher’s immense talent) and tried to make things right. In a private archive, Redman found a letter Mackintosh had sent to Pound in Europe, asking the poet to return. “Mackintosh was a fair man and reconsidered his decision, either for monetary matters or because he doubted the veracity of the allegations,” Redman says. “In that sense Wabash comes off looking much better in this whole thing.” – Evan West [W1999]

This last address is a link to Bill Placher’s Chapel Talk from November of 2007. You can listen to Bill’s take on the college history of 100 years ago. Included in this talk was a thoughtful look at Ezra Pound and his time here. Pound was hired as the Chair of the Modern Languages Department and taught French and Spanish. Placher concluded with some of Pound’s poetry and thoughts on the future of Old Wabash. It was a remarkable Chapel Talk, one I still love to hear.

I hope you have enjoyed these links to Ezra Pound and, on the poet’s birthday, thanks to these three Wabash men Jim Rader [W1960], Evan West [W1999] and Bill Placher [W1970] for sharing their views on this complex and controversial former member of the Wabash faculty.

Beth Swift
Wabash College

A place like no other!

Hotel Del sign

by Beth Swift, Archivist


San Diego is one of my favorite places to visit and while there one of the best places to visit is Coronado Island. Here is a story about the Wabash connection to that lovely place from an earlier post to my blog, Dear Old Wabash.


Coronado is full of beautiful homes, a fabulous public library, and the jewel of the island the Hotel Del Coronado. The Del, as it is called, is a big old wooden hotel like no other. All white frame and red roof, it was intended to be the world’s largest beach hotel. “Too good to be true,” was how it was described at the time and almost exactly how I would describe lunch at the “Del” followed by stroll through the grounds.

While visiting there, I noticed the name of one of its founders, Elisha Babcock. I recognized this name as connected to business in Indiana and so, being the curious type, I dug a little deeper. Along with Babcock, who was from Evansville, Indiana there were a few other founding investors in Coronado Island. Among the names listed on the original documents of the Coronado Beach Company was a fellow Hoosier and a Wabash man – Josephus Collett [W1857].

Josephus, along with his brothers John and Stephen, attended Wabash in the mid-1800’s. John Collet [W1847] was a well-known geologist in the state of Indiana – here is a link to a post about his survey of Montgomery County, home to Wabash:

Josephus Collett made his money in real estate and railroads. In a biographical piece it is noted that he had real estate interests in New York City, the Adirondacks, Chicago, Minnesota, Florida, Indianapolis, Texas and San Diego, California – and lived in Terre Haute.



Map from the collections of the Library of Congress:

Three investors bought all of Coronado for $110,000 in 1885. Further capitalization was needed to attain the lofty goals of these three investors so Babcock brought in other investors including Josephus Collett, described as, “a railroad stockholder.” These men put together a million dollars and founded the Coronado Beach Company on April 7, 1886.

This excellent bird’s eye view map from the collections of the Library of Congress shows their venture in its earliest days. To the right and below the image of the island is a listing of the officers of the company which includes Josephus Collett of Terre Haute, Indiana. The architects of the Hotel del Coronado were also from Evansville. Equipped with all of the modern conveniences of the era, the Del was the first hotel to be wired for electricity while under construction. Thomas Edison was a consultant on the project.

Josephus died in 1893, at the age of sixty-two, having served Rose Polytechnic as President of their Board of Trustees following the death of his friend Chauncey Rose, the founder of the school we know as Rose-Hulman. Collett’s will endowed the Josephus Collett Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Rose.

Those who are familiar with the history of Wabash know the name of Collett – there is the Collett Tennis Center, a Collett Chair of Rhetoric and – as the Phi Gams know – the owls on the front of their new house were purchased by John Parrett Collett [W1924] and donated for the old house. This same John Collett, President of the Board of Trustees of Wabash College for 10 years from 1965-1975, was the great-nephew of Josephus Collett.

Hotel Del

If you have the chance to head to San Diego, stop into the Hotel Del Coronado and admire the fruits of Josephus Collett’s investment. It really is a place like no other!


Beth Swift


Additional links

For more on the history of this great old hotel:

For more on John Collett, geologist:


Hovey’s man

William Terah Lawson [W1876] was one among hundreds of Hovey’s men. These former students who studied under, and came to adore, this brilliant and passionate naturalist went out into the world but always remembered their beloved Professor Hovey. This is evidenced by a letter we recently received. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a woman whose grandfather had attended Wabash in the 19th century. She had two letters to her grandfather, one from Hovey and one from John Lyle Campbell and wondered if we were interested in having them in our collection.

Young Lawson graduated from Wabash in the “Centennial” Class of 1876 and this bright student  went on to study medicine in Cincinnati. The first item that I opened was a very warm letter from Lawson’s good friend Dr. Edmund O. Hovey  written in November of 1876, the fall after Lawson’s graduation. The letter is a great example of faculty to student, then alumnus, interaction in this time period. This letter seems to indicate that Lawson was a little more than a regular student, “Your successor Mr. Coyle fills his office I believe pretty well. We miss “Lawson” however in several respects. You earned a good reputation while you occupied that narrow room & performed the somewhat varied duties devolved upon you.” The record does not say, but I wonder if Lawson might have been a lab assistant….

Also in this letter Hovey sends along a short summary of day to day life at the College. He includes this bit of news, “My family is well & I work some upon the Cabinet nearly every day…” The “cabinet” Hovey refers to could also be described as his life’s passion and was a  sizable collection of natural history specimens. In the Catalog of 1876 a description of the Cabinet says that it included birds, plant samples, rocks and minerals, “…especially rich in coal, ores of gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead and iron…” Collected over his lifetime, Hovey’s Cabinet was so large that it came to fill the Polytechnic Gymnasium which was then renamed the Hovey Museum.Here is a great image of part of the collection in the Museum.

Hovey’s passion for his Cabinet was tied up with the notion of having real materials that Wabash students could touch and examine on the spot for a more effective learning experience. Many collections came about through donors, but in some instances the College bought them. When Hovey died he left the college many things, among them a catalog listing every item in the Cabinet.

A lasting record of Hovey’s lifelong passion for natural history.

Beth Swift
Wabash College

My Favorite Little Book


A request this morning reminded me of this book. I say it is one of my favorites because I recommend it a few times each year. It is from the Wild Plants in Flower series with photographs by Torkel Korling and essay and species notes by Robert O. Petty – longtime biology professor here at Wabash College. My favorite is Volume III The Deciduous Forest. Maybe this is because these are the plants that I know best; the flowers from the woods of my childhood. The excellent photography of Mr. Korling is still, all of these many years later (the book was published in 1974), just as fresh as ever. But I think the real reason that I like it so very much is because of the essays and species notes by Bob Petty.

Listen to this description of the image on the cover, “Spring light in a young forest, a crowd of trillium above decaying leaves – we have been here before. But long before us, before the millennia of glaciers brought summer as but a taunting of the sun, recurrent drought had shaped evolving strategies – autumn and spring of the deciduous forest, where to survive was to win by loss, or not at all. Slowly our curve of earth tilts south again, and here and there we find the ancient secret.”
The opening phrase just draws me into the remainder of the description. As I read this description I feel that out in the woods I am part of a crowd, one of the “we”. All through the book this feeling is fostered as if there were any number of good friends walking in the woods with us.
In one of the essays, Petty gives a full natural history of our area. He explains the various upheavals and changes in the forest over millions of years. “In the late 1700’s, settlers reaching a crest of the Wilderness Road in a notch of the Cumberlands stood blinking into the western light across the greatest deciduous forest that ever was.” This is so vivid a description that again it seems like I can see this scene.
In the next few pages Petty paints a picture of the clear cutting that took place in this forested area. He writes of the cutting of trees “five feet through and towering one hundred and fifty feet. How do you ‘cut the top off’ all the flat land between the Cumberlands and the Mississippi?” In these two sentences the author gives an absolutely clear sense of the size and scale of the clearing efforts which took three generations.
I think of these essays as I drive through the country here. In the spring I pull out my copy and wander into the woods. But of all of the species photographs I am drawn to this one…

I believe it was taken in the woods at my home over three decades ago. Bluebell Valley, we call it, and it is just a gorgeous little valley when completely covered with these lovely blue flowers. A sure sign that summer is on its way. Yet, as the weather is cooling here I think about the end of this book, “By October, the forest is burning amber and crimson in the brief evening light. There is a sharp and pungent sweetness to the air – the smell of walnuts. The nights are cold.”   A sudden wind drifts storms of yellow leaves and tumbles fruits and seeds. A night rain breaks the last dead leaves away from ash and maple. The walnut trees are long since bare – the last to get their leaves, the first to lose them. Here and there in the dry oak woods, a clatter of acorns breaks the stillness. The youngest oak and beech trees wear their dead, russet foliage into winter.”   The wild flowers are only a rumor now. The plants are dormant. All the ancient strategies are one.”   Really a lovely book and as I return to it each spring I wonder…was Petty a biologist with poetry in him or a poet who studied biology?    


Beth Swift


Wabash College

Homecoming in the 20s and 30s Part II

This is a continuation of the homecoming 1920s and 30s story…B

Here are a few freshmen in their pajamas and pots working their way around the bonfire.

Here is a shot of the 1939 Chapel Sing with members of the freshman class on the steps of the Pioneer Chapel. The upperclassmen, probably members of the Senior Council, are closely watching for the least mistake. Unlike the Chapel Sing of today, in this era and for decades after, all freshmen took part and it was every man for himself.

Lastly, here is a great picture of the Lambda Chi house all decked out for Homecoming 1939. Enjoy the week and enjoy the game on Saturday!!


Beth Swift


Wabash College

Homecoming in the 20s and 30s Part I

Note: This entry on homecoming has a lot of images with it so I am breaking it into two parts. I hope that this helps a little with load times…B

As the campus gears up for Homecoming 2009, I thought it might be fun to look as some old images of this celebration…The poster above was for the homecoming celebration of 1937. It is interesting to note that this was the Monon Bell game. I also note that no speeches and no programs were to take place! However there was lunch, then the game, then a meeting of “W” men or men who had won athletic letters. All of that fun and, just as now, there was a Homecoming Concert free to the public. This is just a great old poster filled with loads of energy!

This photo shows the homecoming bonfire built by the Class of 1925. It was the chore of each freshman class to build a bonfire and protect it from the sophomore class. These bonfires were built of anything the marauding freshmen could find and drag back to campus.

As seen in the photograph above, an outhouse was the preferred topper for a really good bonfire. I have always wondered what the neighbors thought at this time of year. Were they out in their backyards standing guard?

Continues in Homecoming part two

Beth Swift
Wabash College

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