Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Memories of the Chadron Congregational Academy...

by Larry Miller

One of the joys of reunions is seeing old friends and getting better acquainted with other persons from your past.  Such was the case this month when we attended a reunion of Chadron State College alumni in the Phoenix area.

And sometimes it's not just the people who delight you -- it's what they bring to the gathering.

Linda Neeland Cullers brought along an undated booklet of biographical sketches of students who had attended the old Chadron Congregational Academy, which preceded Chadron State College by several years.  It also contained a short history of that institution, authored by Gertrude Lutz.  What a treasure!

The history helps fill in huge voids for many of us who have heard of the old Chadron Academy (not to be confused with the later Assumption Academy parochial school) but knew little, if any, of its history.  This little 60-page booklet does the job nicely -- especially  the autobiographical notes from some 110 students who attended the school.

Linda agreed to loan us this splendid booklet, and we're providing Gertrude Lutz's history in this posting.  In the near future, we'll add some of the fascinating biographies that are included in the publication.  Enjoy!


(Chadron, Nebraska)
By Gertrude Lutz

If you stroll up the College Hill and go just beyond the gate, you will see the remains of a narrow cement walk zigzagging ujp the hillside.

In the year of 1888 the minister of the Chadron Congregational Church, Rev. A. J. Powell, met with a group of ministers and missionaries of this region to talk about a Church Academy School for Chadron.

There was a need at that time for High School graduates to qualify for teaching positions with county certificates in Dawes County.

The Chadron High School at that time offered only an eleventh grade level and some felt that was not enough for teachers.

Besides many older persons who would like to teach had not the opportunity to finish a High School course.

So the Northwestern Association of Congregational Churches was formed and after much thinking and debate, a decision was made to build an academy with four years of High School work at Chadron, Nebraska.

The Articles of Incorporation were filed on November 16, 1889.

The location for the school took some thinking and decisions but it seemed that the hilly area South of the city of Chadron was the place.

The Chadron Congregational Academy
So eighty acres of this hilly land was bought from Judson K. Deming for $3200.  It was mostly pine tree country and hills but a slope near the Northern part down towards the town was the spot chosen for the building. 

This land was bought on November 21, 1888 and the building was begun the following summer and was not finished until the year 1890.

The building was made of brick and native stone and was to be three stories high, but only two stories were finished at first and then the furnishings were needed.  A lien had to be put on the building for needed funds.

Donation of work and money came from the American College and Education Society, and from citizens of Chadron and neighboring towns, and the college opened with most of all the debts paid.

In the fall of 1890 there were three students enrolled , but more kept coming until before the year ended the enrollment came to over twenty.

The Dedication Service as held on December 3, 1890.

The Executive Committee was comprised of the following:  Honorable Alfred Bartow, lawyer, Rev. G. J. Powell, home missionary for the Black Hills and Wyoming, G.A. Eckles, Chadron Postmaster, Elbert Mead, businessman and Jarvis Richards, Banker.

Rev. F. L. Ferguson, who later became the Principal of the Academy, gave the prayer of dedication.  The dedicatory address was given by Rev. Willard Scott and at the evening  service, addresses were given by the Rev. S. H. Bross, Home Missionary for Nebraska, G. J. Powell and Lewis Gregory from Doane College.

The first Principal of the Academy was J.M. Hulbert and association with hime were Mrs. Clara P. Lyon, Miss Emma J. Lyon and Mrs. Mary Bartow.  Later Principals were Messrs. Ferguson, Oberkotter, Snow and Hart.

In the early fall before the building was completed, classes were held in rooms at the old Public High School

The Academy building was completed in December of the year 1889 except the third floor, which was left for a future project.

Looking south from near C Hill.  The old Chadron Congregational Academy
is seen in the foreground.   The original college administration building (which still stands) is at left.  (Photos courtesy of the First Congregational Church)
The classes moved to the new building in the first of the year 1890, several new students came but funds were low and sometimes the teachers had to wait a while for their salaries.

In 1890 Rev. Frank L. Ferguson came as minister of the Congregational Church and took over the office of Principal at the new Academy.

The attendance increased and help came from the citizens of Chadron and neighboring towns.

Then misfortune struck at the beginning of the fourth year, a fire broke out and the Chadron Fire Department was small and unable to cope with the fire; so the building went up in flames on November 6, 1892.

Nothing daunted, the friends and teachers and citizens began a drive to get a new building.

A new building needed more help and money, soon the surrounding towns and different Societies and citizens made drives for help and a new building began to rise on the old foundation.  Much of the old stone and brick was used to make a two and a half story building with dormer rooms for the boy students.  The building was completed in less than a year, meantime classes were continued in the Y.M.C.A. building and other rooms.

It was wonderful how people responded with help, money and work, for Chadron at that time had only about 2500 population, it was a Railroad town for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and was just beginning to boom.

A dormitory was needed for the school and a lot near the end of Main street with a house on it was bought from Maggie Ferguson for $ 2500.

This was remodeled to be used as a girl’s dormitory, and a large dining room was made in the basement for serving meals to all the students and most of the teachers.  This building was called, “The Academy Hall.”

In 1907 the liabilities of the Academy were about eight thousand dollars.

There were four Protestant Churches and one Catholic Church in Chadron, also a Railroad Y.M.C.A. with a gymnasium and a reading room.

The Chadron Academy was the only Christian Institution within a radius of several hundred miles.

The students enrolled were required to have an eighth grade education.  The school prepared students for college in Classical and Scientific courses.  There was also a good Commercial Education course and voice and piano work.  The normal course was aimed to give a thorough academic training and also to meet the Requirements Law in regard to the granting of Teacher’s Certificates.   A preparatory course was added for the benefit of those whose school privileges had been limited.  There were many who were deficient in one or more studies but were otherwise prepared to enter one of the academic courses.  Such students were permitted to go on with the advanced work and remove the condition by taking extra work in the preparatory course.

Some of these elementary classes were conducted by mature students under the supervision of the instructors.

The Commercial Course was aimed to give a practical training in Business Methods.  Classes in Shorthand and Typing were to be added if a sufficient number of students would desire that special training.

In the year 1908 there were 125 students in attendance at the Academy.  The school had been publishing a monthly paper call, “The Envoy,”  It contained advertisements from the local merchants, school news, athletic news, news of alumni and former students, poems, jokes, editorials, literary notes, religion notes and news of picnics and banquets.

The following is a class poem written by a member of the Junior Class in 1910.

Class Poem, 1910
Look forth, tho thotful mortal, look!
And view the years ahead.
Where has this life of toil and strife
A brighter beam to shed,
Look not for clouds of darkness grim,
Tho’ rough may be the road,
Make smooth the way, be bright and gay,
And light will be your load.

Now think, thou tho’tful mortal, think,
Of the infinite power of God
He has a plan for every man
Who dwells upon the sod.
There’s work to do; God’s work it is
If honest, brave and true.
He will us bless with happiness
If well his work we do.

Wake up, thou drowsy mortal, wake
Keep guard with watchful eye,
For chances come, and bright are some,
And pass you quickly by
Great opportunities abound,
And those who seek with care.

With earnest thot, dismayed at naught,
Are those who stand the wear.
Then work, ambitious mortal work,
Nor cast a look behind;
You gain in strength, tho great the length
Of plans you have in mind.
Be not afraid of good hard work
If you would care to win,
For the good you do, depends on you
And the work that you put in.  (L.D.L.)

In the years 1910-11 the attendance was gradually falling off, due in part to the advancement of the Public High School and to the lack of disadvantaged students.  So when the State Board of Education decided to build a Normal School in Chadron, the trustees with the board of the Chadron Academy decided to sell the eighty acres to the state of Nebraska.

The academy building was torn down as they always do old landmarks and then regret it later on, when it is too late.

In the records about the old Academy Hall (dormitory), it shows that the lot belonged to Mary Ellen Clark, she had bought it from the Pioneer Townsite Company for one dollar.  She built a small house on it and then sold it to Maggie Ferguson, wife of Frank Ferguson, who later became the Congregational minister and Principal of the Academy.  She sold it to the Academy and that was where the Academy Hall was built.

It seems that the Fergusons had bought several lots in that block and the one across from it.

I think the lots where the Campus Shop and Harold Clark’s apartment house now stands was the location of the football field for the Academy.

The old dormitory building was sold to Charles Naylor in 1910.

A little farther down the hill from the ruins of the old Academy a new building was erected in 1911 which is now the middle section of the Chadron State College Administration Building.

At this same time a dormitory building was built for the college also, which is at present the Faculty Hall.  These two buildings became the Northwest Normal School of Chadron, Nebraska.  Now it is the Chadron State College and consists of many, many new buildings, but that is another story.

(The Orange and the Black)

1)   Let the blue proclaim Yale’s glory
      And the crimson Harvard’s pride,
      Amherst, Dartmouth and old Princeton
      Flash their colors far and wide.
      We will sing a song of Chadron,
      Send the chorus rolling back
      O’er Nebrask’s hills and valleys
      Floats the Orange and the Black.
      We will sing a song of Chadron
      Send the chorus rolling back
      O’er Nebraska’s hills and valleys
      Floats the Orange and the Black.

2)      We have come from the prairie cottage,
Cattle range and railroad town,
We press forth with eager footsteps
To the stories laurel crown.
Open wide the doors of Chadron
To the old well proven track,
O’er Nebrask’s hills and valleys
Floats the Orange and the Black.

3)      Other days may bring us honor,
Other doors may open wide
Duty lead to high achievement
Life’s rich fruits with us abide.
But whatever may befall us
We will E’er look fondly back
To fair Chadron in Nebraska
To the Orange and the Black.

(Yell)   Chad-Chad-C-H-A-D
            Chadron ! ! !

(Editors Note:  Thanks to Linda Neeland Cullers for sharing this publication, The Congregational Academy of Chadron, Nebraska and Those Who Attended. Photos are courtesy of the First Congregational Church of Chadron.)