Sunday, August 21, 2005

Old Main

I mention on my webpage that my grandfather was only 13 when his father died. The family apparently sold the homestead in Tilden and moved to nearby Chippewa Falls where my grandfather dropped out of school and worked at a sawmill for the next ten years. I point out that he wasn't listed on the 1910 census for Chippewa because in 1910 he was in Illinois attending classes at the seminary that ordained him as a minister in 1915.

A few days ago I found a website online that provides an "unauthorized history" of that "seminary" and the small liberal arts college that grew up around it. It was located in Naperville, Illinois, and according to the official history of the college it wasn't referred to as a seminary then. It was an institute known as the Evangelical Biblical Union, run by the old Evangelical Association which consisted of people who had a limited tolerance for seminaries and seminarians.

A portion of the Association eventually merged with the United Brethren and later with the Methodist Church to become United Methodists, and what was left of the Biblical Union, as I understand it, was swallowed up by the seminary at Northwestern University on the lakeshore in Chicago. But the liberal arts college, North Central, is still there in Naperville. My parents both attended that college and that's where they met. All four of my grandparents went to school there and that's where they met. My mother's brother went to school there, as did both of my dad's sisters and their husbands.

The "unauthorized history" of that college was put together by a real estate agent/genealogist in Atlanta, Georgia, named Pat Sabin, a woman whose ancestors settled in Plainfield and Naperville during the Blackhawk War of 1832 when Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were both junior officers in the same unit, chasing Chief Blackhawk all over northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin until they finally drove him across the Mississippi near the border between Iowa and Minnesota and slaughtered most of his band. Their successful collaboration at that time was considered one of the crowning achievements of the movement known as Jacksonian Democracy.

The Evangelical Biblical Union was established in 1860 in Plainfield near Joliet, Illinois, a city immortalized by Dan Akroyd and John Belushi in a movie called the Blues Brothers. Shortly after Lincoln and Davis settled their differences the Union moved a few miles north to nearby Naperville where Old Main was built when Northwestern College was established. The name apparently changed eventually to North Central to avoid confusion with Northwestern University on the shore of Lake Michigan.

The Sabin site shows the names of all of the school's graduates from 1860 until the turn of the century and has profiles of all of the early faculty members and administrators. Through 1877 the school conferred degrees on less than ten graduates each year and until the turn of the century fewer than twenty students graduated annually. One of the more interesting features of the school is that it was co-educational from its inception for both its faculty and students. The first president of the college, the Reverend Augustine Smith, had previously taught at Oberlin College in Ohio and was married to a woman, Elizabeth Cowles, whose family helped to establish that school in 1833.

One of the students at Northwestern College kept a diary during his student years. The transcription of it includes several entries with a short description in 1871 of the Great Chicago Fire, viewed from a distance of nearly thirty miles.

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