Campus Scenes circa 1920

This post features several photographs from the John Parrett Collett scrapbook which he created while a student at Wabash in the early 1920s. Collett, class of 1924, attended Wabash during the roaring 20s and his scrapbook gives us a good bit of insight on his time here at Wabash. Collett came from a long line of Wabash men and pledged the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. In his scrapbook he carefully pasted in Bachelor articles regarding sporting events, dance cards and more. Luckily for us, this scrapbook also includes photographs of campus at that time.

For this picture of old Center Hall above, I have highlighted a couple of features no longer in place. The first is in the foreground of the red box and is the college drinking fountain – now an obscure planter west of the Chapel. The second item, no longer there, is the Junior Fence. This fence was erected not long after the senior bench was dedicated. The fence was removed for the construction of Waugh Hall following the second world war.

Above is another picture which includes Center Hall. This one I love for the fellows ambling along to class, perhaps in Peck Hall or perhaps they are off to Yandes Library for a bit of studying.

This is Peck Hall, named for its donor. In this building pictured above generations of Wabash men learned chemistry and physics. It was taken down to build Waugh Hall, which is now the site of Hays Hall of the Sciences. Hays Hall replaced Waugh Hall as the home of Biology and Chemistry. It was named Hays in honor of Thomas Alvin Hays [W1955]. Hays, a member of the Board of Trustees since 1985, spearheaded the Campaign for Leadership which provided the funds to erect this building.

This photo was taken in the Arboretum [east part of campus] looking out toward Wabash Avenue. To get a feel for the location, the red square encloses the Herron House, a brick landmark with a tower, just across from campus. Just to the left is the future site of Trippet Hall.

This might be my favorite picture of the bunch! It is of the Grant/Wabash corner. I especially like the brick of Grant Street.

Lastly, there is this picture of the Class of 1924 taken during their freshman year. Collett is highlighted right in the middle of the group. John P. Collett loved Wabash College. As a student he was heavily involved on campus including as Editor in Chief of the 1924 yearbook, President of the Wabash Pan-Hellenic Council, Bachelor staffer, very active with debating, a member of the Wabash Players – a theater club and forerunner of the Scarlet Masque, a member of the Student Council and President of the Law Club among may other activities. Beginning in 1939, Collett served Wabash as a member of the Board of Trustees. From 1965-1975 he was President of the Board. For several decades, John Parrett Collett served Wabash well, with this donation of his student scrapbook, his family adds to his contributions by giving us a look at student life for the “Hell-Roaring 500” as the student body of that time came to be known. A real treasure for the Archives, and one we are delighted to share!

All best,

Beth Swift


Wabash College

From WABASH to Westwood…

From Wabash to Westwood – a story of football glory

The 1904 original “Little Giants”

At center holding the football is Bill Spaulding, Wabash class of 1907 and captain of the team. Coach Francis M. Cayou is at the far left of the picture, in the dark suit.

The teams of Francis Cayou were the first to be called Little Giants. These players worked hard and, although they didn’t always win, they always played tough. It was for this grit and determination that Cayou first told them that they played like little giants. This name was picked up by a sportswriter and it stuck. The captain of that first Little Giant football team was William Spaulding the handsome fellow at the center of the photograph above, shown holding the football.

Spaulding was a talented athlete from Melrose, Wisconsin as shown above in the 1904 photo. This image appeared in the November, 1904 issue of the Wabash Magazine highlighting Spaulding’s  selection as a member of All-Indiana football team. To get a better sense of his contribution to the team, here is a bit of information from the Wabash Magazine of 1906 describing Spaulding, “One of the best backs in the business. Is a strong offensive player, and the way he plunges the line is a revelation to the scarlet followers. He is also strong on defensive, and plays Cayou’s secondary defense to perfection. Bill is playing his third year on the team. He is one of our best ground gainers. Always plays hard and plays to win. Possesses an unlimited amount of grit and nerve, and a thorough knowledge of the game. He has the honor of leading the best team Wabash has had since the palmy days of ’95. Bill was picked for one of the all-Indiana backs last year. He is 25 years old, weighs 185 pounds, and is 5 feet 11 inches tall.”

A year later, in 1907, this was the write-up, “‘Bill’ spent his freshman year at Lawrence University. One of the ‘Little Giant’ foot ball men and captain of the team for two years. He was picked for one of the all-Indiana backs, and was also honored with a place on the all-Western team. ‘Bill’ also received a ‘W’ for sprinting on the track…”

It was not long before Bill was back in football as he soon took the job of head coach of the Western Michigan Teacher’s College in Kalamazoo, later known as Western Michigan University. He coached at Kalamazoo for 15 years before taking the head position at the University of Minnesota. It was there that he gained national prominence when his Golden Gophers beat the powerful Illinois team by shutting down their star player, Red Grange. In 1925 Bill left Minnesota to accept the head coaching position at the Southern Branch of the University of California. Their football team was fairly miserable when Bill came to coach. But just as Knute Rockne knew, when he recommended Bill for the position in Los Angeles, Spaulding was just the man to turn it around. And he did.

Folks who know their California football history might know that the Southern Branch of the University of California became UCLA. It was his teams that put UCLA football on the national stage against such great teams as Stanford and USC. Spaulding coached at UCLA from 1925 until 1938 and was a winning coach. In the book Stadium Stories: UCLA Bruins by Chris Roberts we get a sense of the man as coach, “Spaulding had a pretty laid-back style. There were never any fiery speeches before the games or at halftimes. He didn’t yell at players, and spoke in a soft, but forceful voice. Even during bad times he tried to keep a sense of humor. And when his team suffered a defeat, he would encourage, not berate, his players.” He was such an asset to the school that when he left the coaching position he became UCLA’s Athletic Director.

Bill Spaulding, shown here at his desk in Westwood, was a man that all admired and in 1941 Wabash awarded him an honorary degree. Here is the citation from the Wabash Bulletin of October, 1941, “William Henry Spaulding, of the class of 1907, you have carried the best of the athletic tradition of Wabash with you through a distinguished career as coach and director of athletics. As a young man at the Kalamazoo State Teachers College, later at the University of Minnesota, and since 1925 at the University of California in Los Angeles, you have made formidable teams and sportsmanlike men. No one in the West enjoys prestige like yours for handling, in the best interests of the students themselves, the complicated situations of contemporary intercollegiate athletics. For your enlightened understanding and humane leadership of sports in education, it is my privilege to confer upon you, by the authority of the Board of Trustees, the honorary degree of Master of Arts.”

So well beloved was Bill at UCLA that he was in the first class inducted into their athletic hall of fame. To get a sense of the honor a partial list of the others inducted in 1984 reads like a who’s who of American sports. Here is a link to that list:

And for a more lasting memorial, the football field on the Westwood campus is Spaulding Field, named for our man. Used today as a practice field, Spaulding is an integral part of UCLA student life.

One last note about this most amazing fellow, in my research I popped up information on iMDB – the internet movie database – that lists Bill as appearing in the film Knute Rockne All American which also starred Ronald Reagan as the Gipper and the film The Jackie Robinson Story, both times as himself.  Quite a career and quite a life!

I should add that Spaulding is in the Wabash Hall of Fame as well. All credit for this story goes to Max Servies and, as Max might say, Spaulding is SOME Little Giant! Indeed, one of the ORIGINALS! To read more about this team, click here:

All best, Beth Swift, Archivist

Peeking Into the Past

West Main Street looking east

This photograph is of downtown Crawfordsville, Indiana looking east toward the Montgomery County Courthouse. In this photo at top left, we can see the Courthouse tower and its beautiful clock, just recently restored.

Also note the tracks down the middle of the street, those are for the electric Interurban trains that ran regularly through town and on to downtown Indianapolis. An old fashioned light rail service, affordable AND convenient. In fact, many of Wabash’s football games were played in larger venues in Indy. The Ben Hur Line would add extra cars for the big games and our students and fans hopped on board. The electric power lines for the trains are clearly visible in this photograph.

The building on the right, with the round tower, is the first YMCA. Basketball fanatics might know it as the cradle of basketball in Indiana. It was here that a young man, trained under Naismith brought the game to West Central Indiana. The YMCA court served as the home of Wabash basketball for many years due to the unsuitability of our gymnasium.

Here is a picture of the “Old Barn” on campus.

The gym at Wabash set up as Assembly Hall.

Note the posts running down either side, completely unsuitable for the fast paced game of basketball. So it was that our teams played at the “Y” until the College built their own modern gym, late in the 19 teens. Here is a picture of the YMCA gym at the birth of basketball in Indiana.

As many of us succumb to the madness of March, it is fun to peek into the past and see the roots of our mania!


All best,

Beth Swift


Wabash College



Wabash Always Fights!

Heman Powers and his date at the Phi Gamma Delta dance in 1933

One hazard of the work we do in an archives is the constant draw of some fascinating item. This photograph drew me right in and I was overwhelmed with the urge to learn more of this Wabash fellow who is so clearly enjoying himself. Meet Heman Powers of the Class of 1933. And yes, that is the correct spelling, Heman, not Herman. His nickname was Heme and he was a big man on this small campus. Heme as he was known to his fellow students was President of his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, a member of the Senior Council and a varsity football player of determination.

From The Bachelor of January 6, 1933, “Seldom is it that we find an athlete who so nearly typifies the Scarlet slogan, ‘Wabash Always Fights’ as does the man who was recently chosen as honorary captain of the 1932 Wabash football team….So seriously injured in his first year of varsity competition that it was not to be hoped that he would again be able to wear the Scarlet upon the field, he continued his fight, evidencing a spirit that is peculiarly Wabash’s own…and he came back gamely, still fighting for Wabash.

“Again he was injured while personifying the slogan, ‘Wabash Always Fights’ and again he is fighting the good fight. Again he will win his battle for he has displayed that fortitude and spirit which has so markedly dominated his career as a Little Giant, that spirit always to be found in a true son of Wabash.” Indeed Heman did win his battle, but this second injury came at a tremendous personal cost.

Here is an article from The Bachelor 

As a result of this injury, Powers ended up in the hospital in a long, painful and painfully slow recovery. In fact, he was in the hospital all winter, through the spring and into the summer.

Here is another article on his injury and healing process.

In total Heme had 27 operations and while this was surely hard to bear, as a result of this injury and the year and a half healing process, he did not graduate with his class. Never the less, he attended Northwestern night school, Harvard’s Business School Advanced Management Program and learned chemistry on his own, all while working full time. He became a chemical engineer through determination and hard work. But the one thing he did not have was his Wabash diploma and this bothered him.

In 1940 Heme contacted Byron Trippet to ask about how he might complete his bachelor’s degree from Wabash. Arrangements were made for a program of reading followed by a series of examinations. This was possible since Heme had come so very close to finishing his Wabash courses. Life again intervened and before Heme had started this program, WWII began. With the extra duties and service required of those on the homefront, Heme was not able to execute his plan to fulfill the degree requirements. The war years came and went and it seemed as if Heme’s chance at a bachelor’s might have gone as well. But his fighting spirit alluded to above brought him back to Wabash again. In 1957 he applied once more to complete his bachelor’s via a focused reading program and completion of a supervised thesis. This time, the stars aligned and all was completed.

In 1958 Heman Powers received his Bachelor of Arts degree and his diploma. A lifelong dream achieved, a triumph surely celebrated. Heme personified Wabash Always Fights and was a natural born leader. At each stage of his life he led – as President of his high school class, as President of his fraternity, as Captain of the football team, as President of the National Association of Wabash Men and President of the Chicago Alumni, and professionally as Executive Vice President of the National Aluminate Corporation. A leader with a determination to fight against the odds – a real Little Giant!


All best,

Beth Swift


Wabash College




A trinket leads to a tale

Football charm of Palmer W. Hargrave. Sent by his daughter Marian in 2017.

Palmer W. Hargrave

One of the delights I take in the work here in the Archives at Wabash is the care and keeping of the artifacts in the collection. Gifts from alumni, or their families or even from someone with no connection to the college come to the Archives. All have in common the idea that the item should be here for safekeeping. So it was with this little beauty.  Described in our catalog as follows:  Miniature copper football engraved – Wabash Class 1909 on one side and J. W. Hargrave on the other. Football has a bail for the threading of a chain. Attached is a brass chain, all in a box from a jeweler in Los Angeles.

This charm belonged to Palmer W. “Jack” Hargrave and came to Wabash from his daughter who sent it to President Hess for deposit in the Archives. What it prompted was a correspondence and additional gifts of photographs and letters which, combined with what we already knew, create a picture of a life well lived. Indeed, this little charm points us to a legacy that continues well beyond the death of its owner.

Jack, as he was always known on campus, was the oldest of five children. His father was Arthur A. Hargrave, a member of the Wabash class of 1881. A newspaperman on his graduation, Arthur found his way to the Middle East as a printer with a Presbyterian mission. While there he married Marian Moore of Illinois and they had their first child, Palmer, born in Persia. Not long after the birth, the young family returned home to the Midwest. Arthur worked for the Terre Haute Express, an Indiana paper. Shortly thereafter Arthur bought the Rockville Republican, a local weekly. For the rest of his life he never missed writing his weekly column. At the age of 97 he was awarded an honorary degree from Indiana University.  When he died in 1957 at the age of 100, he was still the publisher of this small town paper. Arthur A. Hargrave is a member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

As to that boy born in Persia, Palmer W. Hargrave seems to have lived what we might call a charmed life. Raised in the small town of Rockville along with his two brothers and two sisters, Palmer was a gifted athlete with a seemingly sunny disposition. From letters here in the Archives one gets the impression that he was one of those fellows that everyone is drawn to and likes immediately. As he was always known as Jack on campus, so it will be in this post as well.

Jack was a talented athlete, as mentioned above, but he was also a pretty darned good musician as well. While other fellows might be sweeping floors or stoking the coal furnaces, Jack earned his money by playing the clarinet for local dance bands. He pledged the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity when it was brand new to the business of communal living. In one letter Jack explains that to really focus on his German grammar, he got up early to study as the house was pretty noisy outside of study hours.

Jack was a hard worker, whether in his school work, his music or even more particularly in his football career here at Wabash.  From a letter in his sophomore year of 1906, “Each evening at four o’clock I go to the football field and play hard as possible….All week I’ve  had a blister on right heel, a knee swollen and stiff and a hip that almost put me out of business – my whole right leg is a bum. But, now it is improving and I think it will soon be all right.” He continues that his chances for a varsity spot are small, but vows to, “…work hard and have fun out of it besides.”

Clearly he did work hard at football as in his senior year he is the quarterback of the team.  Writing to his parents at the start of October of 1908, he is a busy fellow. “Football takes an enormous lot of time, so with my house duties, you see something must come secondary. However, I’m getting along all right and I enjoy my course[s] very much this year.

“As far as football is concerned I guess the team is starting OK for we beat Franklin 62-0.” He goes on to describe fellow players’ various injuries before adding his own list of miseries, “I have a black eye, a couple of bum toes and my legs are bruised as usual, but that’s all and I’m in pretty good shape.”


Photo of Jack, in his senior year as quarterback for the 1908 team.

Following his stellar career at Wabash, Jack migrates to the west coast.  This next series of images are all from the family.

Here we have a picture of Palmer in Portland, Oregon in 1910. He looks healthy and happy, full of enthusiasm and optimism.

And this sweet picture labelled Palmer Hargrave and Louie. The license plate is from Oregon for the year 1912.

And this one which looks like a fun day out with his girl.

As was true with so many young men of this era, days of easygoing fun and carefree laughter were brought to a halt as the Americans joined the war in 1917. Jack joined the Army, serving as a gunner in an airplane. Here is a picture of Jack in his uniform.

The next image is of Hargrave in his flight gear below. Below that is Hargrave on the left and his pilot on the right, with their plane.

In Crawfordsville in June of 1918, Jack married Anna McCabe, a graduate of UC Berkeley. She lived across from campus on College Hill, her father too was a Wabash man. Palmer and Anna had two daughters, the youngest, Marian, sent the football charm and family photos.  The other sister, Janet, followed in her father’s footsteps and was a flyer in WWII. She ferried transport planes as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron of the WASPS.

The next image is undated.

After the war, Jack and Anna settled in the West for good. First in Portland, later moving to Los Angeles. It was there that they made their life and raised their daughters.

While researching this piece I learned that Jack was in the lighting business. Not just IN the lighting business, but in a big way. His company was the source for high end lighting for many well known buildings. Perhaps the most well-known is that of Union Station in Los Angeles. Below is a great image that I got from WikiCommons that really shows the massive chandeliers created by Hargrave. If you are interested in more on this beauty of a train station, here is a link to a short history of the station:

By Pedro Szekely from Los Angeles, USA – Los Angeles Union Station, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Opened in 1939, the station is on the National Register of historic places. One of its truly iconic features is the lighting. Palmer Hargrave is responsible for the gorgeous fixtures. In 1946 he bought a lighting business and Palmer Hargrave became the name synonymous with high end elegant lighting fixtures. To my surprise, it still is! Google the name and you will see hundreds of results in lighting. His legacy of taste and style persevered.

Here is an elegant picture of Jack, unfortunately it is not dated. Reminds one of an old style movie star. Very nearly swashbuckling in appearance.

Here is another picture of Hargrave, happily this one IS dated, 1965. And what a beauty of a station wagon.

This photo was taken in 1969 and shows Hargrave amidst several of his beautiful creations.

It seems that Palmer “Jack” Hargrave was one of those truly good guys that Wabash sends out into the world. Hargrave was a hard worker with an ability to focus. A cheerful fellow with a true and abiding love for his family. This next scan is clear evidence of both of those qualities.

This sweet letter, to his daughter and now in the Archives, still delights 62 years later.

What a family, what a fellow, what a story!

Beth Swift


Wabash College





185 years ago – the beginning


One of the hardest parts of this position is the constant distractions from the task at hand. The scan above is a perfect example of that concept. While working on displays for the Giant Steps campaign kickoff at the Indiana State Museum, I pulled this tattered old volume out. It contains the first faculty minutes, which I used in the display. Halfway through the book, like Spiegel catalogs of old, it becomes the Treasurer’s book. The scan above is of the first page. A lovely image which highlights the start of Wabash as a prep school [Classical and High School]. In this area of the country there were almost no students with the requisite Latin and Greek to begin collegiate studies. So, at first, they were preparing the young men for college work.



The next page of the book holds a very humble entry: 1833 12 04 buy 1 small hand bell $1.25.

What is so very cool about that is that it is the entry for the purchase of the bell we call the Caleb Mills Bell. Yes, the very bell that rings in our freshmen and rings them out at commencement too. It was 185 years ago this December that classes began at Old Wabash and over those years many men have come and gone. It was a small start, and yet, this small place lives on today, stronger than ever and looking toward a great future!


Best wishes, safe travels for the holiday season.

See you all next year,

Beth Swift


Wabash College


A bold move!


The month of November is special here at Wabash. While the world around us grows colder and darker – talking temperature and daylight savings time issues – it is also a time of remembrance and celebration. For it was in the month of November that several brave and determined fellows gathered here in Crawfordsville for a monumental meeting. It is cold here in November, it is always cold here in November. It is also often wet and dark as the days grow shorter and shorter. How much  more impressive it is then that these fellows came from near and far to discuss founding a college in the Wabash Country. We know from the stories handed down that it was cold that year as the much heralded “Kneeling in the Snow” happened the next morning.

From the Wabash Magazine of June, 1907 we have this quote from Horace Hovey – the son of Edmund Hovey, “Everybody knows of the ‘Founder’s meeting’ at the Old Brick house in Crawfordsville, November 21, 1832. Rev. John M. Ellis presided; Rev. James Thomson stated the object of the meeting; Rev. Edmund Otis Hovey was secretary; Rev. John S. Thomson made the opening prayer; Rev. James A. Carnahan was present; also elders John Gilliland, John McConnell and Hezekiah Robinson and a visitor, Mr. Bradford King, of Rochester, New York, who infused the ‘manual labor’ idea. Hon. Williamson Dunn, who had already given fifty acres of land to Hanover College, authorized the offer of fifteen acres to this new born institution – which determined its location at Crawfordsville. When the five ministerial founders visited the spot and drove the corner stake for the first building, they all knelt in the snow while Rev. John M. Ellis made the dedicatory prayer.”

These fellows were young, nearly penniless, but determined. They were religious men, missionaries, ministers and elders in the local Presbyterian Church. They were all clear in their determination that if the churches and schools of this area were to thrive, they would need men educated as preachers and teachers. If the Wabash Country was to prosper then education and organized religion had to be the foundations. The likelihood of enough preachers and teachers coming to this frontier settlement was small. Clearly, they would need to grow the educational and religious systems from within this area. A school was needed that could take the young men of the area and educate them for duty in the schools and churches. It was with this in mind that James Thomson called a meeting at his snug little home late in November. It was with the enthusiasm of youth and a belief in the divine that decided upon a bold course of action. They would accept the offer of the donated land. The morning after the meeting at Thomson’s several of those present walked through the woods to inspect the site. We can imagine a crisp, cold morning with the sun glinting off of the snow like a million diamonds. It must have seemed as if, in that moment, anything was possible. They knelt and prayed, consecrating the site to this audacious undertaking. And now, nearly two centuries later, the small college for men that they blessed continues to educate preachers and teachers. They would delight to know that it also educates men of science, poets and artists, doctors and lawyers, musicians and mathematicians. Their dream of a college continues and stronger than ever. So as we look toward 200, it is so important to look back as well. To think of these determined young men and to honor their hardships and struggles and to realize what a bold move this was so many years ago.

All best,

Beth Swift

Archivist, Wabash College

Birth of basketball?

YMCA gymnasium in 1906.


Here is a picture to brighten your day!

This shot is of the YMCA gymnasium in downtown Crawfordsville, circa 1906. Note the baskets still gathered at the bottom. The floor had many a potential star, including one of the greatest coaches ever to come out of Indiana – Piggy Lambert of Purdue. It was Piggy who coached John Wooden who was later known as the the “Wizard of Westwood.”

Much has been made of the early adoption of the game by the folks in Crawfordsville. For a closer and more detailed look at the facts, I would recommend a paper by S. Chandley Lighty. Here is a link:

Lighty presents a clear, well-reasoned  argument. I  highly recommend reading it.

All best,

Beth Swift


Wabash College






Advertisement for Wabash College highlighting the new dormitory.

The year of 1838 held a great deal of promise. The new building was coming along nicely, plans were finalized for the first ever Wabash College commencement.  As a fledgling college on the frontier, it might not surprise us that there were only two students who qualified to graduate. The usual course was two years of preparatory classes followed by four years of the classical course. These two students, Silas Jessup and Archibald Allen, finished in five.

The mood on campus later that summer might have been a good bit less celebratory due to an ever widening schism in the church of our founders. The Presbyterian Church in the United States was going through a great turmoil of faith. The sides became more clearly defined over time and boiled down to Old Lights and New Lights. The old lights were stricter, kept the Sabbath activity free and did not believe in educating through Sunday schools. The new lights were in favor of education wherever it might be shared, abolitionism and viewed their god as a more forgiving and loving god. Later that summer of 1838 a minister came over from Indianapolis to preach at the Presbyterian Church here in town. Imagine the distress the founders and early faculty must have felt as they were DENOUNCED from the pulpit of their own church and removed from the membership. Our founders and their helpers in the field of God’s work were New Lights or from the progressive wing of the faith. Undeterred by this attempt at shaming, those who were denounced immediately began making plans to found their own church – Center Church. It was located on the corner of Washington and Pike Streets and stood there for many years before being demolished.

With plans in place to make a new church founded on their views, it was now time to return the focus to the start of classes. The snippet of the article, pictured above, tells us about the student accommodations in the new building. Classes started on September 13th.

From the Indiana Gazetteer of 1849

This design of the building, later known as South Hall, is clear in this 1849 drawing from the Indiana Gazetteer. The College, as it was known, was the first building on this campus. At four stories it was a marvel to all who saw it. At long last, six years after the founding, Wabash was growing beyond its humble Forest Hall beginning. Land enough to grow was secured by the purchase of 160 acres. Much of this was immediately sold off, at a profit, and by 1838 funds were in hand to begin the building project.

Our first president, Elihu Baldwin, was a Yale man recruited by Edmund Hovey to leave his comfortable NYC church. With an engaging manner and a passion for the benefits of a well-rounded liberal arts education, Baldwin began raising money for the college right away. Three years later as they prepared to build their new college building, one wonders if Baldwin’s memories of the beauty of New Haven came to mind. Ithiel Town was a successful architect who designed and built two beautiful churches near Yale, just as Baldwin entered the school. It is impossible to say from this distance in time, but the connection is interesting.  At any rate, the firm, Town and Davis of New Haven, Connecticut, prepared plans for Wabash of a combination dormitory, chapel, library and lecture rooms.

The College, as the building was always called until Center Hall was built, was designed to be fireproof. It was divided into three divisions – north, middle and south. Separating each of these divisions was a brick wall that ran from the basement all the way to the attic. The floors were of a double thickness and covered with lime plaster. On account of this and other preventative measures, the building was not insured against fire.

A photograph from 1875 showing South Hall as it was built. Shortly after this picture was taken a disastrous renovation began which would lead to structural damage. In the end this building was demolished to build Baxter Hall in the 1960’s.

In the previous installment, we remember that through triumph and struggles, hard work and perseverance Wabash was building a brand new, four story building. This building was to be a dormitory, house classrooms, a library and a chapel. The south division completed, the library stocked, the science classrooms furnished with the latest in equipment and 30 or so students were now residing in this four story marvel.

All was well, the workmen were finishing up the last bits of the north division with the tinners on the roof. It was late on a Friday evening when the town awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of catastrophe and the cries of “FIRE!!!”  A local boy, John Cowan later a student here, remembered it quite clearly many years later. He ran to the campus where he saw Caleb Mills at his bedroom window, “I ran as fast as I could to the College, and as I neared the burning building my attention was attracted by Professor Mills who had just been awakened, and was standing at his bedroom window looking toward the scene of the fire. I never shall forget the deep distress in his voice, for he was crying as if his heart were broken.”

Cowan continues with the tale of Caleb Mills, Man of Action, “…he came hurrying with his usual impetuosity, and at once organized the students and a few citizens into a “bucket” line, from the cistern and well, to the lower rooms on the Southwest side of the building. He then rushed in where bricks and debris were falling, at the very risk of his life, to receive the buckets of water, hoping to save the lower rooms of that division. In this way, the lower floor was not burned through. Finally when Prof. Mills came out he was scarcely recognizable, owing to his blackened face and being covered with dust.” Happily no students died, but many lost all they owned. Some returned and some never did.

Headline from the New York Observer reporting on the blaze. The publisher, Sidney Morse, was a very great friend of Wabash president Elihu Baldwin.

It was an agonizing setback and most thought that was the end of this scrappy little school. A meeting with the town was held immediately and all agreed the College should be rebuilt. In fact, the people of the town had been gathering money to create a woman’s college here as well. That money was used to begin repairs on the building right away.  It is for this substantial assistance that the plaque on the mall side of Baxter Hall thanks the people of Crawfordsville.

The catalog for the next year carried a letter from Caleb Mills to all interested parties titled Calamity, Present Prospects, Condition, “The Trustees immediately resolved to rebuild and the work commenced on the third day after the fire. College exercises were resumed in commodious rooms in town… aided by timely donations, of the friends of the College, and the smiles of a Kind Providence, the repairs are so far advanced that the building will be ready for occupancy by students at the commencement of next term on the 12th of September.”

1860’s photo of the Hanna Building, on the corner of Main and Washington, where Wabash classes were held after the fire of September 23, 1838. Hanna was a close friend of the college and an early trustee.

We see back through time with the benefit of knowing how this story goes on into the future. But at that time, in the year of 1838, there was no way to know if this adventure in education would survive. It was through sheer determination that these pioneering educators continued their good work. Indeed, when the fire started President Baldwin was in NYC raising money for Wabash. President Baldwin’s friends told him that he should return to New York in light of this tragedy to which he responded, “Oh no! There is only the more work to do.” There was work to do and they did it. The students were back in classes in a couple of days in borrowed rooms downtown and lived with families in town. By the start of the next school year the building was reopened, although incomplete. In fact, it would be another seven years before it was truly finished. But these fellows were tough and determined. OR, as we say today, Wabash Always Fights!!!

Beth Swift


Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana



McCanliss Athletic Center – boy was THAT close!

Architect’s rendering of proposed new gymnasium on campus.

So often as we look back over our history, things seem to make sense and fit nicely into our perception of the Wabash Campus. There are a small number of buildings that house classes. There is Center Hall, built in three stages and serving as home to the Administration as well as the Philosophy, Religion and English departments. The buildings on campus just seem to all make sense. That is the result of careful planning and strong determination.

When I first saw the image above, I was rather put off by it. It is one idea that was pursued when it was clear that the old Armory/Gym combo was not adequate to meet the needs of Wabash men. Solicited in the mid-60s, this drawing shows a dome like bubble which comprises the fieldhouse. We can see the football players on the field and at the right is, I believe, the swimming pool.

And yet, we have no building that looks anything like the drawing above. How did this happen? We can ascribe it to one man with a passion for a certain sort of architecture and very deep pockets. That man is Lee McCanliss [W1907] a lawyer in NYC and former President of the Board of Trustees. McCanliss did not care for modern architecture, what he liked was what architect Eric Gugler’s firm offered.

Eric Gugler was a prolific architect with strong connections to the Roosevelts. He designed FDR’s Warm Springs retreat, rebuilt the West Wing and designed a WWII memorial in Italy [a marble duplicate of our brick Sparks Center] and, on cmapus, Waugh Hall, Sparks, Lilly Library and Baxter Hall. It was the New York Wabash men who brought Gugler to campus for the first project, Waugh Hall. Due to a funding constraint, the money given to Wabash College to build a new science hall had to be utilized by a certain date. With first the Depression, and then WWII, the time to build came hard and fast on the heels of the end of the war. Lee McCanliss was the president of the Board and brought Gugler to Wabash. After Waugh Hall, the Campus Center was next. And so it is that much of what we think of when we think of Wabash was designed by Gugler.

Fast forward to the mid-60’s and the talk of a new sporting complex and the modern design above….Lee McCanliss was so put off by this design that he donated a great deal of money to the project, on the condition that he get to pick the architect. He chose Gugler.

This is the McCanliss Athletic Center as completed and dedicated in 1968. The picture above is the north entry, about where the main entry for the Allen Center is today. In constructing the Allen Center in the 1990s the McCanliss facilities were built around and enclosed. The complex has grown a lot since that time and continues to grow. The students really seem to love it as it receives high marks among small college athletic facilities.

All best,

Beth Swift


Wabash College