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THE history of the Ohio University antedates that of the State nearly two decades. The ordinance providing for its existence and support was passed in Jul, 1787, in the city of Philadelphia. The leading spirit in the movement was Manasseh Cutler, a native of Connecticut, and a graduate of Yale of the class of 1765. In accordance with the spirit of his time he proposed to endow an institution for higher education with a grant of land. As there was a superabundance of land and as the country was pretty sure to fill up rapidly, such an endowment was supposed to be the most stable and almost sure to increase greatly in value. The history of man land grants for education shows, however, that while the expectation of increase in value has realized, the increase rarely accrued to the pecuniary advantage of the beneficiary. To this general statement the Ohio University forms no exception.
Among the ordinances enacted for the Northwest Territory, there was one providing that "no more than two complete townships should be given perpetually for the purpose of a University, to be laid off by the purchaser or purchasers as near the center as may be (so that the same shall be of good land), to be applied to the intended object by the Legislature of the State."In 1795 the lands to be devoted to the support of the University were located. The townships were numbers eight and nine in the fourteenth range, now Athens and Alexander in Athens County. The first families removed to them in 1797, and settled near the present site of the town of Athens, the seat of the University. Two years later the Territorial Legislature appointed three commissioners "to lay off in the most suitable place within the township, a town plat, which should contain a square for the college; also, lots suitable for house-lots and gardens for a president, professors, tutors, etc., bordering on, or encircled by spacious commons, and such a number of town lots adjoining the said commons and out-lots as they think will be for the advantage of the University."
In the same year Dr.. Cutler sent his draft of an act of incorporation for the University. In this draft he said among other things, "Forty or fifty thousand dollars cannot be too high, as it must be applied to one of the most useful and important purposes to society and government." Passing over some intermediate legislation, we find that the General Assembly of the new State that had just been admitted into the Union, passed, in 1804, an act of which Section I gave to the institution its present name, the Ohio University, and defined its object to be, "the instruction of youth in all the various branches of liberal arts and sciences, the promotion of good education, virtue, religion and morality, and the conferring of all the degrees and literary honors granted in similar institutions." Section 2 provided for the corporate existence of a Board of Trustees. Section 2 also provided "for the subdivision of college lands into tracts of not less than eighty acres nor more than two hundred and forty acres; the valuation of them by three disinterested and judicious freeholders as in their original and unimproved state, and the leasing of the same for the term of ninety years, renewable forever, on a yearly rent of six per centum of the amount of the valuation so made by the said freeholders; and the land so leased shall be subject to a revaluation at the expiration of thirty-five years, and to another revaluation at the expiration of sixty years, from the commencement of the term of each lease, which revaluation shall be conducted and made on the principles of the first, and the lessee shall pay a yearly rent of six per centum on the amount of valuation, to be made as aforesaid at the expiration of the term of ninety years aforesaid. * * * Provided, always, That the corporation shall have power to demand a further yearly rent on the said lands and tenements, not exceeding the amount of tax imposed on property of the description of the State."
The first building was erected on the northeast side of the present campus and known as the "Academy." It was of wood and has long since been torn down. The first building for collegiate purposes proper was put up in 1817. This is therefore the oldest structure of the kind in the entire Northwest, if not west of the Alleghenies. It is four stories high above the basement , and though somewhat remodeled twenty years ago, is substantially the original building and is still in use. Twenty years later two additional buildings, also of brick, were put up. In 1881 what was for a time known as the "chapel building" was erected and subsequently removed to its present site in order to make room for Ewing Hall the newest, as well as the largest of the college buildings. Though the university was chartered in 1804 no instruction was given until 1809. In June 1818 the Board laid out a course of instruction which embraced "the English, Latin, and Greek languages, mathematics, rhetoric, logic, geography, natural and moral philosophy." One year later when the school was formally opened but three students presented themselves. This is not surprising when we consider the sparseness and poverty of the newcomers on the soil of Ohio.It seemed a paradoxical scheme to establish a university before preparatory schools had been provided, yet this has been the history of education from the remotest times—the higher has always preceded the lower, though the latter did not always appear.
For some years the university had but one instructor, the Rev. Jacob Lindley, a graduate of Princeton. In 1812 Artemas Sawyer, a graduate of Harvard was added as a second teacher, and six years later a third was added.
The first graduate was Thomas Ewing, who was probably the first person to receive a college diploma in Western America. The distinguished and subsequent career of Mr. Ewing is well known. It is identified not only with the history of Ohio but with the history of the nation.
The revenues of the university were at first very small, but they would in time have increased to a respectable sum as the two townships above named contain nearly fifty thousand acres. Unfortunately the legislature interfered to prevent the revaluation of its lands, notwithstanding the decisions of the various courts, so that the income from this source is and will remain at less than five thousand dollars per annum. However, toward the close of the seventies the legislature began to make annual appropriations for the support of the university, and in 1896 enacted the so-called "Sleeper Bill" which has since then given it a yearly revenue of nearly thirty thousand dollars in addition to its income from other sources. The whole amount, however, still falls considerable short of what its founders supposed they had provided and assured.
Though the college has been giving instruction from 1809 under the charge successively of Rev. Jacob Lindley and Rev. James Irvine, its first president, as he is usually designated, was not elected until 1824, when Robert G. Wilson a native of North Carolina and a graduate of Dickinson College was chosen to fill the position. His successor was the well known Dr. McGuffey. For a few years dating from 1845, owing to financial embarrassments the institution was closed, but in 1848 it was reopened under the presidency of Dr. Ryors. Dating from 1852 Dr. Howard was president for twenty years and was succeeded by Dr. W. H. Scott. Since 1883 the present incumbent has been at the head of the institution with the exception of two years, 1896-8, when the position was occupied by Dr. Isaac Crook.
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