It is natural that the College should have remained for a time, as it did, under the care of its founders and donators, and as a consequene should have conformed to the ideal before their minds. The charter provided for four departments - science and literature, mechanic arts, agriculture and military tactics. Of these, that of science and literature was put in operation. The course was laid out to cover four years with an indefinite preparatory, and conformed closely with that of Bluemont Central College. The first catalogue gives the names of ninety-four students in the preparatory department and fourteen in the college proper. Seventy-four were from Riley county. The faculty consisted of Rev. Joseph Denison, D. D., A. M., president and professor of ancient languages and mental and moral sciences; J. G. Schnebly, A. M., professor of natural science; Rev. N. O. Preston, A. M., professor of mathematics and English literature; Jeremiah Evarts Platt, principal of preparatory department; Miss Belle Haines, assistant teacher in the preparatory department; and Mrs. Eliza C. Beckwith, teacher of instrumental music.
Joseph Denison, D. D., A. M., the first president of the Kansas State Auricultural College, was born in Bernardston, Franklin county, Mass., October 1st, 1815. When he was two years old his parents removed to Colerain, in the same county, where they engaged in farming. Here young Denison lived the usual life of the New England farmer boy of those days. In the fall of 1833 he entered Wilbrakbam Academy to prepare for college, and in 1837 he joined the sophomore class in Wesleyan University at Middletown, Conn., where he graduated in 1840. In the same year be was elected Professor of Languages in America Seminary, Duchess county, N. Y., and held that position for three years, having for his pupils such men as Alexander Winchell, the renowned geologist, and Albert S. Hunt, the great philanthropist, whose gifts to hospitals and institutions of learning, aggregated a million dollars or more. From 1843 to 1855 he was engaged in the work of the ministry in Massachusetts, and in the spring of the latter year he came to Kansas, settling on a tract of government land near Manhattan, where he became one of the prime movers in the organization of Bluemont College and its president. A few years later, when the College became a State institution, he was still its president, holding this responsible position until 1873, when he resigned and soon after accepted, for a time, the presidency of Baker University at Baldwin City. At present he is engaged in the work of the ministry of the M. E. Church. Dr. Denison is characterized by his collaborators as a man of conservative views with regard to education, politics and religion - a typical New Englander of the old school. As a financier, for himself as well as for the institution, he did not prove an entire success, but he was warmly devoted to his work, honest to himself and his trust, and unselfish in every one of his acts. Kansas owes Dr. Denison a debt of gratitude which can never be repaid.
During the first ten years, the College grew slowly. Up to 1873 but fifteen students Had graduated. The reasons must be looked for in many directions: the newness of the State, the western location of Manhattan, the inadequacy of means, the founding of rival literary institutions at Lawrence, Baldwin, Topeka, etc., and the fact that the industrial education was in its experimental stage. President Denison and a majority of the professors were classic students, and had no faith in the educational results of technical instruction not connected with the classics. They planned to add elective work in practical science and applied mathematics to the "old education," but it should supplement, and not supplant, this. The introduction of obligatory daily manual labor as an educational factor was not attempted. Aside from occasional lectures on general topics, little work was done for agriculture and the mechanic arts, and the increasingly frequent demands for an institution that would educate towards, instead of away from, the farm and the workshop were met with uncertain promises. The Board, largely composed of professional men, must have held similar views, though the report of the State Commissioners of 1873 says that "Attempts were made by members of this body at different times to change the curriculum of study, and in other respects to alter the running of the College so as to make it conform more nearly to the demands of the people."
It should not be assumed, however, that the institution failed of doing good work in its class rooms. The Literary Department was second to no higher school of the kind in the State. The catalogue of 1868-69 states that, up to that time, the College had educated at least eighty teachers for the public schools. A large number of ministers, especially of the M. E. church, which still considered the institution as its protege, and reported it as such at the annual conferences, also received their education here. Nor were the sciences entirely neglected. Benjamin F. Mudge, A. M., called to the chair of natural science in 1865, was an enthusiastic teacher and an untiring explorer. Aided by some of his pupils, one of whom is now professor of geology at the Kansas State University, Professor Mudge made a large collection of geological specimens and donated it to the College, where it formed a nucleus of the present museum. Being the first "take" in the new State, it contained many specimens which could not have been acquired later. The professor taught at the College for about eight years, after which he devoted himself entirely to the work of collecting for eastern institutions and the writing of scientific papers for a number of publications. To him the State of Kansas owes its first comprehensive geological map; and it was a proper acknowledgment of her indebtedness to his unselfish life-work, when after his death in 1879, his name was engraved in one of the wall panels in the Hall of Representatives at the State Capitol, and the State Academy of Science erected a massive granite monument upon his grave overlooking the College building from a neighboring hill.
The following is a short synopsis of the material signs of progress and growth during the period: A library of nearly three thousand volumes was accumulated, chiefly through the efforts of Hon. I. T. Goodnow, who wrote hundreds of soliciting letters to eastern publishers, philanthropists and personal friends. In 1867, a capacious Student Boarding Hall was built by resident parties, but, as it proved a poor financial investment, it was afterwards urged upon and purchased by the College, a deal that evoked severe censure by the people of the State, and furnished a point of attack to unfriendly legislators for a whole decade. At the time of its erection the building met an evident want, but, costing the College over $10,000 when this was financially embarrassed, the purchase was a misfortune. In 1875, when the College was removed to the new farm, the Hall became entirely useless, until, in 1889, after having been sold to a private party for $1,000, a fire devoured its rotten floors and roofs and calcined its crumbling walls. In 1868, an extensive forest and fruit tree plantation was started. It contained some two hundred varieties of trees, many of which were entirely new to the prairie country, and have since then proved very valuable. In 1871, the "New Farm," a beautifully-located tract of land, comprising 155 acres, was bought at a total cost of $29,832.71, in scrip. The city of Manhattan, frightened over the repeated attempts of zealous friends of the State University at Lawrence to consolidate the Agricultural College with that institution, contributed $12,000, the result of a bond election. A solid stone fence was built around the whole tract, and the erection of a large barn commenced - a broad, corniced, massive-looking stone structure, with numerous wings, towers, stairways, elevators and offices. The barn was never completed, however, and the finished west wing served its purpose for a short time only. It was afterwards, under President John A. Anderson, turned into a class room building, and still later, under President Geo. T. Fairchild, into a drill hall and museum. In 1872, a Veterinary Department was organized and put under the management of J. H. Detmers, V. S., but discontinued, in 1874, for want of means and patronage.
Tom & Carolyn Ward