Notes From My Knapsack 12-1-16
Some birthdays are more special than others
If you or I were to turn 185, there would probably be a bit of a fuss made. For a person, that's old.
For a building or an institution, it's a significant number of years, but the number does make a difference in how much attention is given.
The Alexandrian Society building on Broadway, aka the Granville Historical Society museum is 200, and that's worth some celebration. We've seen a few 150th anniversaries with the last few years' worth of Civil War commemorations, too; St. John's UCC over in Newark just concluded a year of 175th anniversary celebrations.
But 185 just doesn't grab people the same way. I guess the assumption is "let's see if they make it to 200, then make a fuss."
December 13, 1831 is when the Granville Literary and Theological Institution held classes for the first time, Tony Lisska tells us, with John Pratt gathering a dozen or so students at 2:00 pm that day in the Baptist meetinghouse which would then have been on the northeast corner of Cherry Street and West Broadway – just west of today's home of the president of the G.L.T. & I., where Adam Weinberg is probably happy they changed the name in 1856 to Denison University.
(Thank you to Dr. Lisska's Spring 2007 article in "The Historical Times" of the G.H.S. for details.)
Granville College it was briefly, from 1845 to the donation from William S. Denison which gave rise to today's label, and Denison is very much why Granville is known as a college town. Our village is 211 years old, and the county 209, neither of which are reminders to conjure with, but 185 . . .
I do hope to be around for 2031, God willing and good tailwinds, and there's a bicentennial or two in the next few years I hope to help celebrate, but it just felt right to ring a bell, even if a small one, to mark a modest beginning which continues to grow and develop in wonderful ways.
Denison University is not working on growing in size or student count these days, but the development and advancement of the nearly 2,200 students and some 235 faculty is a process that continues to enhance the village, this county, our region.
I like to imagine, from time to time as I know Tony does, those first students: yes, all male, all white, all Baptist . . . also all cold, all curious as to what this Pratt fellow would talk about. All wearing their coats and maybe a cloak or two, sitting on hard benches in a drafty space meant for an austere worship experience on Sundays, and on this Tuesday it was no less chilly and could not have been better designed to at least help the new student body to focus on the soft-spoken gentle scholar standing before them.
They ranged in age from their early teens into their 30s, a marked difference from today's Denison students; they also looked forward to a curriculum focused on subjects like Latin and Greek – not unknown to current scholars atop College Hill, but far from a majority experience.
Women would arrive across the street at a Young Ladies Institute, and ethnic diversity would arrive within a few decades, even though the numbers of students of color wouldn't begin to approximate percentages of the nation until well into the late 1900s. The campus would move that first full year south across Raccoon Creek, then back into the village atop what was then Prospect Hill in 1854.
Denison's history is not quite Granville's history, but it is well-nigh impossible to tell the one story without the other. John Pratt, when it was considered to move the young Baptist educational institution elsewhere in the Midwest, is said to have spoken of "the value of the college to Granville and of Granville to the college."
If his first lecture was as true as that statement, he was a good professor. And some true stories deserve retelling, in every decade.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about anniversaries worth celebrating at email@example.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.