This is a big year for North Central College. You only celebrate a 150th anniversary once, after all.
Throughout 2011 and into 2012, North Central College will celebrate its Sesquicentennial. The celebration kicks off with Cornerstone Week, May 15-21, which includes numerous opportunities for community participation.
The school was founded by the Evangelical Association of North America and remains affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The first day of classes took place on Nov. 11, 1861, a mere six months after the battle at Fort Sumter signaled the start of The Civil War. At the time, the school was called Plainfield College and located in a building a block east of the present-day intersection of Route 59 and Lockport Street in downtown Plainfield.
In 1864, the school changed its name to North-Western College. The school has always been co-educational and opened its doors to women since its founding. The College has always had a reputation for recruiting exceptional faculty and for providing a well-rounded liberal arts education. Notable alumni have excelled in the arts, sciences, business and education, among many other fields.
By the late 1860s, the fledgling institution was looking to relocate closer to a railroad. The “golden spike” completing America’s first transcontinental railroad was driven in 1869, and the first railroad bridge over the Mississippi River had only just opened a decade before that. The College’s leaders realized that being close to a railroad was critical to the school’s continued growth and success.
The College’s Board of Trustees considered offers from the towns of Hinsdale, Ill., and South Bend, Ind. But the best offer was made by the citizens of Naperville of land and $25,000 for a new building. So in 1870, the College packed up and moved to Naperville.
The big event was celebrated on Cornerstone Day: May 17, 1870, when the cornerstone was laid for Old Main. Old Main is constructed of limestone from a nearby quarry at what is now known as Naperville’s Centennial Beach. Old Main was built prior to the time of central heating, indoor plumbing and electricity. Old Main was dedicated on Oct. 4, 1870.
For the College’s first 30 years in Naperville, Old Main was the only building on campus and housed classrooms, library, seminary, chapel, offices and dormitories for men on the fourth and fifth floors. The south wing to Old Main was added in 1891, and electricity was installed in 1892. A telephone was installed in 1901, and city water, sewer and gas service were installed in 1905.
Old Main underwent a substantial renovation and expansion in 1997-98 and today is the administrative hub of the College.
Future posts will provide details about community events associated with this year’s Cornerstone Week and additional stories about the history of North Central College, including tales of distinguished alumni, important moments in the life of the College and examples of North Central’s bonds with the local community.