UIHistories Project: A History of the University of Illinois by Kalev Leetaru
        F O U N D A T I O N

Life Springs Forth From the Treeless Prarie

A Sown Field

The year 1859 was both a year of future potential and a year of present realization. With the groundbreaking of theSuez Canal on April 25, the stage was set for a new era in trade and transportation. The drilling of the first oil well in the United States by Edwin Drake on August 27, near Titusville, Pennsylvania, was both a milestone of the present and a prophesy for the future: the dawn of the black gold had arrived. With its never-ending quench for growth, the country added Oregon as its 33rd state on February 14.

In the arts, Elias Disney, the father of Walt Disney, was born on February 6, while Charles Dickens published his A Tale of Two Cities between April and November. It was also the year of Sir Arthur Conan Doyles birth, who oneday would bring us the logical world of Sherlock Holmes.

But perhaps the most remembered event of 1859, one whose coming was marked around the world, was the publication by Charles Darwin of one of the most controversial works of science of all time. His book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, remains controversial in some circles almost 150 years later.


The course of events that would lead to the University of Illinois as we know it today first saw the light of day on January 20, 1859. While the previous twenty years had seen much political posturing and a faint rustling in the wind of something coming, this day marked the true crystallization of all these glorious plans. For it was on this Thursday that a certain Reverend Jonathan C. Stoughton arrived in Champaign County representing a company interested in establishing a seminary in the area between Urbana and West Urbana . [1] [2] The company, consisting of Stoughton, a Mr. Hodgerson, J.E. Babcock, and George Harvey, had already constructed such a facility in Aurora, Illinois, known as Clark seminary, and hoped to create a similar seminary in the Urbana/West Urbana region, as well as at other locations in the state. Stoughton s company was a purely for-profit enterprise in the business of making money, not spreading religious messages. [3] The company proposed to purchase 200 acres between Urbana and West Urbana , which would be developed into the seminary building and its grounds for a cost of between $60,000 and $80,000. [4]


The following year saw a community realize that they finally had their long sought-after political carrot with which to lure a university to the area. The idea of a seminary of higher education in the community appealed to the 1860 residents of Urbana and West Urbana, but the idea of dangling that new seminary as bait for an even grander facility, a university, was even more appealing. Using the impending seminary institute as bait, on June 27, a letter was delivered to an industrial educational convention [5] in Bloomington, which offered the forthcoming building and all its grounds for the establishment of a new university in the area. However, the contract for constructing the building would not yet be signed for another 5 days; the citizens were certainly alive to their opportunities in thus seeking to get a state agricultural college that did not exist to occupy a seminary building that was not yet even on paper. [6]


On July 2, 1860, the contract between the cities and Stoughtons company was finally signed and the boundaries of what would seven years later become the Illinois Industrial University were set. The company paid $19,298.79 for 193.9 acres comprised of certain tracts of land lying between Wright street on the west andLincoln avenue on the east, Springfield avenue on the south, and north beyond the city limits. [7] Eight acres would become the seminary grounds, while the rest would be parceled into town lots. [8]

The seminary building itself was to be closely modeled after the one previously built in Aurora and was to be made with brick walls and a stone foundation. Construction was to commence almost immediately, on August 1, while a deadline of November 15, 1862 was set for the completion of the building.

[1] The Movement for Industrial Education and the Establishment of the University; by Burt E. Powell, PhD University Historian; intro by Edmund J James; published 1918 p.197
[2] West Urbana changed its name to Champaign in May of 1860
[3] Powell p.197
[4] Quoted in Powel p.197 from Our Constitution, a local paper
[5] Powell, p199
[6] Powell, p199
[7] Powell, p199
[8] Powell, p199
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