It's back-to-school time, so I thought it would be nice to visit one of the Midwest's oldest and prettiest campuses at Ohio University in southeastern Ohio near the Appalachian foothills.
Ohio University traces its roots to the early days of the United States when a group of Revolutionary War veterans, figuring it might take a long time to receive payment for their war service, asked the government for one-and-one-half acres of land in lieu of cash.
The group, established as Ohio Company of Associates, received land under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Manasseh Cutler, a Yale graduate and member of the group, insisted on a provision in the agreement emphasizing the importance of education and setting aside land for a school of higher learning.
Visit Ohio University campus and you'll find a passage from that agreement engraved on a stone plaque near the main entrance.
The Northwest Territory legislature and its governor, Arthur St. Clair, approved the school's charter as American Western University in 1802. Ohio became a state in 1803, so the state legislature approved its own charter for the university in 1804.
Ohio University became the first university established in the Northwest Territory, an area covering much of the land that eventually became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
The first building appeared on campus in 1807, and a sundial marks that spot today. Three students enrolled in 1808. Early students most likely took classes comparable to today's high school-level classes due the lack of highly trained teachers in the area.
The school awarded its first two bachelor's degrees in 1815, and Ohio University began offering traditional college-level classes by 1822.
The school experienced slow growth through much of the nineteenth century. The university only had 496 graduates by 1886 (a year when they had 26 men and 11 women enrolled in classes). Growth in the student population accelerated after World War II, and today Ohio University has more than 28,000 students.
Legend has it that more than a few ghosts also call Ohio University home, and the school has a reputation as being the most haunted college campus in the country.
The many early nineteenth-century buildings, and the network of red-brick streets and walkways crisscrossing campus, make Ohio University's campus especially appealing. We've visited the campus a few times, and it's easy to spend most of the day wandering around and taking pictures.
Cutler Hall, a late-Federalist style building dating from 1816, has an interesting history and a couple of close calls with demolishment. Lightning struck the building in 1818, and it only survived because of heavy rains. The building housed dorm rooms, class rooms, labs, a library, and a museum over the years but eventually fell into disrepair and some university officials called to demolish it. It was restored it to its original appearance in the 1940s and earned designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Today the university president and other senior university officials have offices in the building.
The red brick so prevalent on campus speaks to the importance of the brick-making industry in the Hocking Valley during the nineteenth century.
Plentiful clay and shale deposits in the Hocking Valley fired the start of brick making in the area during the early 1800s. Early area brick makers practiced the craft much as Europeans did for hundreds of years, making bricks for specific structures and baking them in the sun or makeshift kilns.
By the 1870s, more modern brick manufacturing began in the area. Walk around campus and see how many bricks you can find engraved with the brick company names or marks.
Want to learn more about the school's history? Check out Ohio University 1804-2004: Spirit of a Singular Place by Betty Hollow.
Athens by Richard A. Straw is an Arcadia Press book chock full of vintage views of the town and information about its history.
Want to know more about the ghostly tales surrounding campus? Check out Guide to Ohio University Ghosts & Legends by Craig Tremblay.
© Dominique King 2010 All rights reserved