Early Columbia College, 1784 – 1865

                               Early Columbia College Timeline, 1784 – 1864: A Time Line

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1783 November 23 – British evacuate New York City following the Peace of Paris. Among American negotiators was John Jay (KC 1764).  
1784 January – New York Mayor James Duane, with Governor George Clinton’s support,  proposed creation of a state university to take the place and assume the property of King’s College..  
  March – Petition submitted by 4 ex-King’s College governors to effect Duane’s plan. Received support from several NYC Presbyterians.  
  May 1 – NY legislature passed “an act for granting certain privileges to the College heretofore King’s College, for altering the charter thereof, and erecting a University in this state… hereafter to be named  “Columbia College in the State of New York.” The 1784 charter eliminated the earlier clauses privileging Anglicans.  
     
1785-86 Difficulties working with a governing board of appointed regents drawn from throughout the state prompts the legislature to entertain proposal pressed by James Duane Alexander Hamilton to reconstitute the King’s College governing arrangements using residents of New York City as trustees of a private college. Among the trustees was Gershon Seixas,  a rabbi and prominent member of the City’s Sephardic  Jewish community.  
1786 April 11 – The first graduation ceremonies of Columbia College; included in the 8-man class was the governor’s nephew, DeWitt Clinton.  
1787 April 13 – Legislature approves a second charter for Columbia College, now designating it “Columbia College in the City of New York,” and relieving it of statewide responsibilities. Its twenty-four trustees were to include no ex officio public office holders and were to be self-perpetuating.  
  Although again a “private” institution, it remained eligible for state support. Between 1787 and 1810 it received  upwards of $40,000    in state funding.  
1787 May — The trustees elect William Samuel Johnson (17xx-18xx) as the first president of Columbia College. The son of Samuel Johnson, William Samuel was a Connecticut attorney and Loyalist who retrieved his political fortunes by representing Connecticut at the Constitutional Convention that summer.  
1790s Faculty appointments occurred in response to state grants, which remained generous into the 1790s, before drying up. At one point the faculty included x members, including x who constituted the College’s medical faculty.  
1800 April — President Johnson resigns the presidency to return to Connecticut.  
1801 May — The trustees elected Maryland Episcopal minister Charles Henry Wharton, a convert from Catholicism and an ex-Jesuit, but he resigned six months later without having made an appearance.  
1801 Dr. David Hosack, Columbia medical school professor and botanist, purchased 20 acres of land 3 ½ miles north of Manhattan line of settlement. Named it the Elgin Botanical Garden.  
  December – The trustees elect Benjamin Moore, King’s College graduate (1765) ex-rector of Trinity Church and currently the Episcopal Bishop of New York as the College’s 3rd president.  
1801-09 The College’s fortunes decline for want of attentive leadership, the drying up of state funding and the defection of medical faculty to the upstart College of Physicians and Surgeons. Lease income on college-owned property increasing.  
1807 College of Physicians & Surgeons opens in New York City, in direct competition with the Columbia Medical School.  
1809 A trustee report, written by the New York transplant Rufus King, decried the decline in admission standards and the rise in disciplinary problems. “The College is fast becoming, if it has not become already,” the Report concluded, “a mere grammar school.”  
1810 The trustees elected the Rev. William T. Harris, rector of Episcopal church of St. Mark’s in the Bowery, Columbia’s 4th president, but almost simultaneously installed John Mitchell Mason, trustee and Presbyterian, in the newly created office of provost. Mason was expected to be the man in charge.  
1810 Trustees secure a revision to the Charter, the last to be sought because as per Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) to do so would open the College up to legislative scrutiny. The 1810 Charter remains in force, with changes handled by Statutes.  
1811 August 7 — Columbia’s commencement turned into a riot as graduates and some alumni in attendance protested the exclusion of a senior for having expressed what the faculty concluded were excessively republican views about the college’s disciplinary system.  
1813 Columbia College closes its medical school, its faculty having in most cases moved to the College of Physicians & Surgeons. In its 28-year history (1785-1813) it have produced 24 graduates.  
1814 April — The state legislature, declining to renew state subsidies of Columbia, gave the College a plot of land earlier the property of Dr. David Hosack, for a time a member of the Columbia medical faculty, who had sold it to the state in 1811 for $25,000. For the next three decades “Hosack’s Garden” (now the site of Rockefeller Center)  the undeveloped property remained yet another  burden on the College’s treasury.  
1815-17 Columbia comes close to closing in the face of declining admissions,  its reputation for rowdiness, and growing deficits due to the stoppage of state subventions. The trustees turn to Trinity Church for a bailout to stave off being taken over by the state and relocated to Staten Island.  
1817 Trustees borrow $22,000 to expand the College building by adding  east and west wings.  
1820 Two faculty appointments, Charles Anthon (1797-1867) in Greek, and James Renwick (1792-1864) in natural philosophy, bring a measure of strength and continuity to the 5- or 6-person Columbia faculty. Both  would teach into the 1850s.  
1829 Harris retires as president and is succeeded as Columbia’s 5th president (7th if counting the first Johnson and Cooper) by William A. Duer (1780-1858 ), a longtime political officeholder and recently ousted state supreme court judge. He was the College’s second lay president.  
1830 Anticipating the opening of NYU, trustees authorized faculty to add a literary and a scientific course as alternatives to the heretofore required classical course.  
1831 New Yorkers of a more utilitarian cast than Columbia’s trustees, and more likely Presbyterian, found the “University of the City of New York,”  later NYU. Its curriculum much more practical than Columbia’s, with more emphasis on employable skills than classical languages. Only intra-board squabbling keeps it from becoming a serious threat to Columbia.  
1835 October 5 — Columbia College sophomore George Templeton Strong (1820-1875) commences his diary, which he maintained faithfully with daily entries for the next four decades and provides posterity with a singular window into the workings of Columbia College and New York society.  
1841 What becomes Fordham University opens in NYC as St. John’s, now the third college located in New York City. The first Catholic college in New York state.,  
1842 Duer resigns as president and is succeeded as Columbia’s 6th president by Nathaniel Fish Moore (1782-1872), a nephew of Columbia 3rd president,  Benjamin Moore, and a one-time Columbia professor of Greek and Latin.  
1847 The Free Academy of New York opens as a publicly supported college in local competition with Columbia, NYU and Fordham.  
1849 Nathaniel Fish Moore resigned as president and is succeeded by Charles King (1789-1867) as the College’s 7th president. The son of Rufus King, Charles King was a merchant and newspaperman who had never attended college but had been a Columbia trustee. He was the father, through two marriages, of 14 children. At the time of his election he was without gainful employment.  
1852 Trustees begin leasing the six-city-block property  —  once Hosack’s Garden and now  the ‘Upper Estate” – in 202 separate lots for 21 years. An immediate source of needed income.  
1853 The 61-year-old Professor James Renwick is encouraged by  trustees Samuel B. Ruggles (1800-1881) and new elected George Templeton Strong to retire, to make way for a younger  and more up-to-date scientist.  
1854 Spring — Columbia trustees divide over appointment of Oliver Wolcott Gibbs (1822-1908),  Columbia graduate (1842) and chemistry professor at the Free Academy. Gibbs candidacy pressed by America’s leading scientists.  
  March – Trustee Ruggles publishes The Duty of Columbia College to the Community, in which he charged those trustees opposing Gibbs doing so because he was a Unitarian.  
  April 3 – The Gibbs candidacy fails to secure a majority; position goes instead to a Princeton professor of physics, Richard McCulloch. Gibbs remains at CCNY until went to Harvard as its professor of chemistry, beating out future Harvard president Charles William Eliot for the job.  
1856 October — Trustees buy the Deaf and Dumb Asylum property of Madison Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets for the bargain price of $63,000.  
1857 Trustees sell most of original campus off Park Place for $600,000; retain some adjacent rental properties (“The Lower Estate”). Original campus eventually site of NYC’s Inrenal revenue Offices and now an apartment building [50 Murray Street].  
1857 May – College abandons its original building off Park Place to be demolished, moving the College uptown to recently purchased property on east side of Madison Avenue and what is now the west side of Park Avenue,  between 49th and 50th Streets  
1850s Growing income from the College’s two principal Manhattan real estate holdings  — The  “Lower Estate,” consisting of the land adjacent to where the original college stood, and the old Hosack Garden property, the  “Upper Estate,” between what is now 48th and 50th Streets and between 5th and 6th Avenues. Columbia’s income from leases and rentals for the next several decades much exceeds its income from tuition and fees, making it arguably America’s richest college.  
1857 Columbia increases its science faculty with the appointment of Charles A. Joy as professor of chemistry. Joy the first American appointee at Columbia  with graduate training in Europe.  
1858 May — Appointment of Theodore  W. Dwight (1822-92) as professor of jurisprudence in what was otherwise an abortive first attempt to introduce graduate studies at Columbia, leads to the opening of the Columbia Law School and Dwight’s semi-proprietary position as warden. The School rented quarters downtown at 37 Lafayette Place to be near the courts.  
1860 June 4 — Columbia College and the College of Physicians & Surgeons enter into a loose  affiliation. Full integration is three decades away.  
1861 April – The Civil War breaks out with Union forces firing on the Confederate-held Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor.  
1863 July — Professor McCulloch, a native Virginian,  leaves Columbia to join the Confederate army after the South’s defeat at Gettysburg. The trustees strike his name from the faculty list and commence a search for his successor.  
1863 September — Ogden Rood appointed Professor of Physics to succeed McCulloch; among the passed over candidates was Frederick A. P. Barnard (1809-1889), past president of the Universities of Alabama and Mississippi, who crossed over Union lines in 1862 and was employed at the US Coastal Survey in Washington.  
1864 February – The 80-year-old  Charles King announces his plans to retire from the Columbia presidency.  
1863 April 6 – Thomas Egleston, Jr., a wealthy New Yorker, Yale graduate and graduate of the French  L’Ecole des Mines, proposes to Columbia trustees plans for “a school of mines and metallurgy.” George Templeton Strong becomes an enthusiastic backer of the plan.  
1864 February 1 – Trustees adopt plan for the establishment of “The School of Mines of Columbia College.”  Egleston is appointed its first faculty member, though the trustees assume no financial responsibility for his or other faculty salaries. School to rent space adjoining the Madison Avenue campus  
1864 May 18 — Columbia trustees elect sight-unseen Frederick A.P. Barnard as the 10th president of Columbia College  
  September – Barnard arrives on campus to commence his 25-year presidency.  
  November 15 – The School of Mines opens for instruction with three professors appointed to the School and three borrowed from the College. Within months enrollments in the 40s.  
 

1865

April – The Civil War ends with General Lee’s surrender to General Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse.  

 

Last updated: December 15, 2013
Ram31@columbia.edu

 

 

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