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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Some Reminiscences of the Class of 1889

George D. Miller

Delivered: June 1939

Fifty years are but as yesterday when it is past, so short is the time since, “We first began to climb this Hill, eager to follow learning’s ways.” The same beautiful hilltop is here, the ascent is just as steep, and views of the Oriskany and Mohawk valleys can never be improved by the art of man. The changes are in the beauty of the buildings, the comforts of living and the personalities who spread the influence of the College. The spire of the Chapel rising above the treetops has even a greater charm for us when viewed from the Utica road than in the days of the past. It is still the perfect center of the landscape architecture.

The imposing buildings, which are the product of the designer’s art and the generosity of the alumni and friends of the College, are in marked contrast to the shabby and age-worn structures of the Old South, Middle and North dormitories in which we took up our temporary abode in 1885. We studied by lamplight, took our bath in a tin washtub, carried water from the well, heated our rooms with a coal stove and stored our coal in the clothes closet. We walked down the Hill for breakfast, carried our lunches in a basket and occasionally got a bath at the village barbershop for 25 cents. Pete Kelly kindly carried out the ashes and occasionally a sophomore met us at the top of the stairs with pails of cold water to refresh our spirits. Dignified upperclassmen, clothed in very tight trousers, cutaway coats, high collars, sharply pointed shoes and derby hats protected us from more serious humiliations.

Of the buildings which have disappeared one is the little observatory where Dr. Peters held court. “Twinkle” sometimes invited us into that mysterious structure to share with us his knowledge of the twinkling stars, the movements of the planets and the outline of the Great Dipper. Dr. C.H.F. Peters, a great scientist and a man who lived apart, finished his course on the Hill the year following our graduation. The 1889 Hamiltonian in its leading article paid tribute to his scholarship. I fear we did not always appreciate his greatness, and to him all freshmen looked alike. He marked our attendance when our seat was occupied by someone, and on warm May days some of us slid out of the window to enjoy the sunshine.

Another structure which has been displaced was the little chemistry building of wood and battens. Professor Chester was a real teacher of chemistry even if many of us remember only the meaning of H2O and H2OSO4. We too look vainly for the science building where Professor Kelsey hammered into our memories Ganot’s Physics. We remember some places by incidents. This is the case of the inconsiderate hen from DeRegt’s roost, which intruded upon our quiet hour of instruction. Professor Kelsey requested someone to drive out the hen and the whole class responded. When the hen finally escaped, the dust in the room was intolerable. We had rendered an unwise service because at the next examination Dr. Kelsey refused to divide the book of physics, as was his custom, and we “boned” all night to prepare ourselves for the test. All on account of one stupid hen.

The year 1889 marked the beginning of the new buildings. The hall at the entrance to the campus was erected for Y.M.C.A. purposes and was the gift of Horace B. Silliman of Cohoes. It was in one sense a centennial gift. Just 100 years before the dedication of Silliman Hall, which took place on the second of May in 1889, Samuel Kirkland had come to the valley of Oriskany and commenced the construction of his first log cabin. So 1889 was really a centennial class. Dr. Darling in an excellent address accepted the gift from Mr. Silliman, and David G. Smith, Class of 1889, the president of the Y.M.C.A., gave the response for this generous gift. In gratitude for this gift there was some talk of changing the name of the College to Silliman. The students hooted down the change of name, declaring that the College must live or die as Hamilton.

What a contrast meets us today as we enter the campus. The halls are imposing, the architecture pleasing, the golf course appealing, and the new gymnasium most promising. Our campus is called the most beautiful in America. Our musical privileges have given our choir a national reputation. Our student body is tripled, and our alumni are filling many positions of great importance. Surely our minds swell with gratitude to our alumni and friends who have added beauty and efficiency to our beloved Hill.

As we ponder the names of the faculty in those days, we are impressed by their character and ability as instructors. Their facilities were limited but they made the best use of them. Before our entrance, the clouds of dissension between the trustees, the president and the faculty had darkened the atmosphere of the Hill. But during our four years, the threatening storm had blown away. Dr. Darling proved himself to be a man of courage, patience and executive ability. His service as president was a constant self-sacrifice. He was devoted to the College and generous in his gifts to the students. One day in New York his daughters told me that he had reduced his financial condition to a minimum by his generosity. His personality was imposing, his enunciation quite unusual, and his sermons were long. We enjoyed quiet and restful Sabbath mornings.

The era of 1889 had a decidedly religious trend. Before Dr. Darling became president, he and a number of prominent clergymen of the Presbyterian denomination had been influential in forming an alliance between the College and the Presbyterian Synod of New York. The agreement included an endowment of $500,000 from the Synod. The fulfillment of that agreement was never fully completed, and at a meeting of the Synod at Utica Dr. Stryker made one of his brilliant addresses in which he heroically declared the independence of the College from the Synod. Another religious influence which touched Hamilton was the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. Under the leadership of such men as John R. Mott, Robert E. Speer and Robert Wilder, that movement took on large proportions until 5,000 students in various colleges began their preparation for service in some form in foreign lands. One member of our class, Robert McCullough, who was physically our strong man and a terror to sophomores, did not finish his course here but took up the study of theology and medicine. He enlisted as a medical missionary in India. It may have been the result of such a religious atmosphere that 14 of the students who entered with us became ministers. The recent beautiful brochure descriptive of College Hill states that “Hamilton men are prominent in the legal, medical and other professions.” But in the Class of 1889 the ministers were not included in the list of those who “also ran.” In the lists of modern classes, occasionally we find a man with an “m” following his name.

In our memory of the faculty of that day the name of Dr. North fills our thoughts with reverence and appreciation. When we entered his class on Monday morning, he occasionally surprised us with one of his perfect lectures. He loved Greek poetry, and he had the genius to translate it into English poetic form. We remember every trait of his personality from the hanging of his coat by the sleeve on the hook, to the gentle way in which he opened his manuscript. Will you kindly excuse a couple of personal references? The first time I climbed the Hill I stopped at Old Greek’s study to get an appointment for an examination in Greek. He handed me a copy of the Anabasis and asked me to read a few sentences and translate. He asked me two other questions and then gently said, “You have passed your Greek.” That was the easiest examination I ever had.

Ministers should not talk about their honors, but there is one honor which is dear to my memory. It was when Dr. Hudson wrote me in Rochester that I had been elected a trustee of this College to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Dr. North. To sit opposite Elihu Root around the table of the Board of Trustees of Hamilton College was surely an honor for many men; but to occupy the place which had been filled by “Old Greek” for so many years was almost awe inspiring. His Memoir has occupied an important shelf in my library. While we are speaking of Old Greek we are very happy to remember that “Little Greek” entered his professorship in this College on the day we graduated. Could any man who ever crossed the threshold of the College Chapel be more worthily the successor of Dr. North than could Dr. Fitch?

The member of the faculty who did much to mould the life of the Class of 1889 was “Square Root.” What oratory was his! Members of my congregation in Rochester often spoke of the eloquence of Professor Root in that pulpit. How picturesque his sentences! How cynical his criticisms! How convincing his arguments! He taught us how to begin an oration, and his advice and method have been of great value to many ministers. One day in class one of us demonstrated a problem in algebra on the blackboard and wrote ans. at the end. When we returned to our seats “Square” made his address. “When a young man goes to the blackboard and successfully demonstrates a problem in algebra and writes ans. instead of Q.E.D. at the conclusion, it savors more of the four-cornered country school than of the dignity of Hamilton College.” For those who visited his study, his conversations were a wonderful education, and for Carruth and Warfield and others, a game of chess with the master was a pleasant recreation. He was truly a great professor.

Professor Hopkins made Latin a pleasant study. What quiet dignity was his! What charm of personality! What absolute courtesy! How strong he was physically! We never attempted a rush when he was leading the chapel service. He scattered freshmen and sophomores as Samson scattered the Philistines.

Professor Brandt prepared us for a trip in Europe by teaching us German and French. He drove us hard in the study of the origin of words. He remained on the Hill during the period of the World War and must have been grieved when German became an unpopular subject in America.

There are some incidents of our disorderly conduct which involved Dr. Hamilton. We were not a class of great meta-physicians and did not absorb the subject as did Prof. Squires who graduated the following year. One evening 25 restless freshmen marched down the Hill, collected hop poles from an adjoining field and threw them on the porch of “Billy” Best’s house. When we returned Mr. Best was lying in wait for us behind the hedge and made an attack upon the strongest men of the group. They shook him off and proceeded to give him a lecture on how to great college men. The incident led to a faculty conference. Mr. Best’s description of Warfield and Knowlson were confused. Leavenworth they could not place because he was apart as a student of science. But Dr. Hamilton recognized the description of Leavenworth because they took their lunches at the same table. But “Chippy” was too good a friend to reveal his knowledge of his daily companion. Several men took short vacations and Leavenworth remained.

While we are speaking of Dr. Hamilton, another incident in our junior year caused considerable amusement. Some of our class who had become interested in table-ricking were holding their séances in an upper room in Middle college. Dr. Hamilton expressed a desire to share in this weird experience and was invited to join them. While they were thus absorbed in beating out questions and answers, another group locked the door on the outside. Later in the evening when Dr. Hamilton was starting for home, they could not open the door. As a last resort, the group of table-rockers lifted him to the transom and pushed him through. Somewhat disheveled, he reached his home at a late hour.

Time would fail me to tell of Professors Bristol and Burdick and Hoyt and Evans and Scollard, men of talent and fine personalities who for a short time led us to the paths of learning. The Utica Morning Herald of June 28, 1889, said editorially: “The 77th commencement at Hamilton College has been a memorable one for several reasons. The election of Professor Edward Fitch in the department of Greek Language and Literature and of Dr. Terrett to be the Maynard Professor of Law adds two gifted men to the faculty and gives new strength to the College. Present faculty by years of service and prominence in various departments of knowledge has made a most honorable name for Hamilton College. The commencement has been a successful one, and not in many years have there been present before its alumni and friends such evidences of vigor.”

In 1935 the class held its reunion in September in celebration of our college entrance. One of our classmates expressed a wish for such a 50th anniversary because he feared that he could not be with us today. David Garrett Smith and Frederick Perkins are in the fellowship of those who have gone before. Fifteen of us remain to recall the experiences of 44 who entered in 1885. So far as my information extends, no one of the number has served a term in the county jail or penitentiary. Some of us remember the delightful evenings which we spent at that very hospitable institution in the valley known as Houghton Seminary. To at least one of the class, those visits brought a life-long joy. Professor Benedict was ever true to the College, likewise his son Howard and his grandson Howard Jr. There was very little recreation for us aside from what we had on the Hill. Some went occasionally to Utica to attend the theatre and see their charming friends. But the return trip meant an hour’s ride on the coal train, which arrived in Clinton at midnight. A few heard Henry Ward Beecher’s last lecture in Utica. The presidential campaign in 1888 led to the forming of clubs in which Frank Gilbert was head of the Democrats and Charles Warfield of the Republicans. We took part in the parades in the neighboring villages and in Utica. Some played pool in the village billiard parlor. All of us managed to make the grade, and when commencement came the faculty appointed Carruth as the valedictorian and Jimmy Rogers to write the salutatory. I hope that we all met the aim of the College as it was recently expressed by our president, “The College aims to secure breadth without superficiality and thoroughness without cramping rigidity.”

One of the most interesting events of our last year was the sudden rebirth of the athletic spirit. James D. Rogers of the Class of 1889 was made president of the Athletic Association. In the intercollegiate contest with Union College at Albany, Hamilton’s victory was complete, including baseball, tennis, tug-of-war, bicycle and track events. Six intercollegiate records were broken that day. Hamilton was first in nine and second in nine. Spurlarke of our class, the only colored man I believe who has graduated from Hamilton up to our time and one of the most popular men in the class, made the record that day in the 200-yard dash and already held the record for the 100-yard dash. This victory at Albany aroused the enthusiasm of the College and the village, and was well remembered for several years. One member of the faculty said, “This single college victory in athletics has done more to put minor matters in minor places, and exalt the College and develop a proper loyalty than a generation of teaching.” For 10 years or more the College publications used it as a text. A typical statement was, “The field day of 1889 was a story of beauty and wonder to us all — wonder, for the surprise was great as well as sudden.” That was not the last victory for James D. Rogers. After 50 years of carely contemplation, our Jimmie, Class of 1889’s salutatorian, was united in marriage last October. We wish for them many years of happy wedlock. Only to remain of the class who have not yet shared in that blessed experience, Leroy B. Williams and Samuel G. Tracey.

Our graduation motto, given us by “Old Greek” and carved on the two columns at the entrance to the campus, is Ekastos pasi pantes ekasto. That motto has always expressed the spirit of the class. We rejoice in their achievements. Dr. Albert Evans, after several successful pastorates has rendered a great service in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington. David H. Chrestenson, after a long pastorate, is now retired and was made pastor emeritus of the church which he served. Dr. Dean R. Leland has been the Presbyterian collegiate pastor in the University of Lincoln, Nebraska. Milo B. Loughlin has been pastor of the Presbyterian church at Tacoma, Wash.

Two physicians remain with us. Dr. Samuel G. Tracy has been associated with hospital service in New York and Dr. Henry W. Johnson early made his record at Hudson, N.Y., and has for many years done the noble work of a faithful doctor. Walter S. Knowlson has been for most of the years of his life the principal of an important school in Brooklyn. James D. Rogers has been a professor of Greek in our own College and at Columbia University. Leavenworth, after 49 years as professor of science at the Illinois College, has now retired. In that 49 years he never missed a class appointment because of illness. Charles H. Warfield at the age of 34 became president of the Stat Principals’ Association of New York and is still conducting his business office in New York City. LeRoy B. Williams engaged in business and is now president of the Syracuse Savings Bank after many years as a trial lawyer.

Clarence U. Carruth, our valedictorian and class secretary, is a successful lawyer in New York City and has been for 20 years a member of the board of trustees of the Broadway Presbyterian Church, since 1926 the president of that board and recently re-elected for another term. The talents of Erwin L. Hockridge have expressed themselves in various fields such as editorial writer on the Utica Herald, professor of Greek in the Carroll, Iowa, Normal College, practicing lawyer in Utica and the father of two daughters who are holding positions of high educational rank. George D. Miller has been pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Warsaw for two periods covering 34 years and between those two terms pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Rochester for nine years and moderator of the Presbyterian Synod of New York. But the star of the class in law, in politics and in the educational field is William Miller Collier. He is the author of that valuable publication much appreciated by all lawyers, Collier on Bankruptcy. He has been chairman of the Civil Service Commission of the State of New York. He was minister and envoy-extraordinary to Spain during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. He was president of George Washington University. And he was an ambassador to Chile. His latest achievement is the landing of a 700-pound shark out of the Gulf of Mexico.

We must not forget to name the members of the class who have finished their course and kept the faith. Jay T. Badgley was minister of the Presbyterian Church at Dunkirk. Schuyler Coe Brandt was a successful business administrator at Oak Park, Ill. Colonel Ellsworth Button was a teacher. Frank Boughton Carlton was pastor of an important church in Buffalo. Frank Bixby Gilbert was deputy superintendent of education in the State of New York. William Henry Greis was a physician in the city of Syracuse. Edward Coit Morris was a professor in Syracuse University. John H. Pardee was a corporation lawyer of high rank. Joseph Lee Spurlarke was pastor of a church of his own race at Salem, Va. William Sherman Steele of Harrisburg, Pa., was a teacher and mathematician. Stephen Dwight Waterbury was a clergyman in Detroit. Lincoln Christman Ackler was a lawyer at Illion. Charles W.E. Chapin, the poet and literary man of the class, was a minister. Elmer Ellsworth Dockstader was a teacher at Pattersonville. Curtis Bigelow Miller was a successful lawyer in Utica Eddy Rippey Whitney was a high school principal at Schenectady. William Wadsworth Miller was for many years the principal of an important special school in Buffalo. David G. Smith was the pastor of four important churches, an active worker in the Y.M.C.A. in the World War and an exchange preacher in the Abderdeen Church in Scotland. Frederick Perkins was our Clark Prize winner and minister in Binghamton. Hiram H. Bice was an educator at Dobbs Ferry. William Jackson McGuire was the only member of the class who passed from this life while we were in College.

We cherish still in memory fond
The lines of many a comrade’s face
Whose death has left a vacant place;
They wait us in the great beyond.

Our thread of life goes on to run
Unwinding still from Fate’s vast spool;
We learners yet in life’s great school
Hope for “cum laude” – the last “Well done.”