Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Timothy Alden and the Founding of Allegheny College

Timothy Alden Jr., the founder of Allegheny College, was by all accounts a charismatic and motivated man who pursued opportunities to expand education throughout his life. He was descended from John Alden, who landed on Plymouth Rock on November 15, 1620. Like his father, Timothy Alden, he was a Harvard educated pastor and was ordained in 1799. He was the principal of three different academies in Portsmouth, Boston, and Newark, after which he moved to Meadville in 1815. “[Alden’s] goal was to serve God by serving Man, and to service his young county by strengthening its unity through inculcation of a community of ethics and morality through the education of ministers, teachers and others in the newly settled regions”.

Although Meadville only had 666 residents, “the paucity of numbers… had no discouraging effect on Mr. Alden. The outlook did not appear to dampen his ardor. Noteworthy as to his zeal and ability in infusing encouragement into all around him, is the fact that a meeting was at once called for the purpose of discussing the feasibility of the undertaking” . He enlisted John Reynolds to help him in his efforts. Reynolds was described as “a man of ability and character, who was always known to be ready and willing to enter upon and assist in any good work”. The two men prioritized religion and the advancement of learning as work progressed on planning a college. At the first meeting about a potential college in Meadville, Alden’s speech and defense were so dynamic and sound that everyone there supported his idea. At that very meeting, they drafted a preamble, a set of resolutions, a plan for operations, and Allegheny College got its name.

While Reynolds took on the task of getting the college a charter, Alden was charged to travel around to the Eastern and Central states to solicit donations of money, books for the small library, and land. When Alden returned, thanks to his efforts and the generosity of the donors, Allegheny College had the most valuable library existing at that time in the United States. Bentley Hall was named after Reverend William Bentley, who donated a great number of books to the college and left his cabinet and library to the college in his will. Alden’s enthusiasm and charisma are likely the impetus for many of the donations. His friends were great scholars and assisted him in his pursuit of higher education for his community through these donations. Alden’s contributions to the college cannot be emphasized enough; moreover, “the history of Mr. Alden is so intimately blended and united with Allegheny College that for all those years they are one and inseparable. Of necessity the history of one is the history of the other”.

 In the college’s early years, some classes were held on the Diamond, in an old frame courthouse above the place that prisoners were kept. Other times, classes were held at Alden’s residence.“Always active in everything that pertained to its interests and the good of the community - the advancement of the young and rising generation lay close to his heart”, Alden would go to great lengths to make sure students had a place to learn”. Many of the prominent and important founding members of Meadville contributed money to the college in order to ensure a good education for their children and for their posterity: John B. Wallace, Samuel Lord, Daniel Lefevre, David Mead, and John Reynolds, among many others. While living in Meadville, Alden also preached frequently at a Presbyterian church.

 Despite Alden’s motivations, Allegheny College faced a few obstacles in its beginning years. There were already two colleges in Western Pennsylvania at the time, located in Washington and in Jefferson. Later, these two schools would merge to become the Washington and Jefferson College of today, but at this time, there was great competition between the two schools and a new college in the region was not well received. After being forced to close for two years, the Methodist Episcopal church conference took charge of the college and reopened it in order to establish a Methodist presence in that region. Alden’s optimistic spirit had finally given out, and he later retired to Pittsburgh and died there in 1839. Timothy Alden did not live to see the great success of Allegheny College, but credit is due to him and his founding enthusiasm for education, allowing Allegheny College to send “ ...forth a host of worthy, intelligent, well educated men, who are spreading science and religion in almost every land and clime; whose influence no man can compute, and will not be understood until the final consummation of all things”.

 Works Cited

Hayes, J. C. “The Story of the Labors of Dr. Alden and His Associates in the Founding of Allegheny College.” The Tribune-Republican, May 12, 1888.

About the Author

Erin Hartwiger is a freshman at Allegheny College. She is a double French and International Studies major and works with the Crawford County Historical Society through the Davies Community Service Leadership Program. She is from Birmingham, Alabama, and is interested in the way that history can inform the future. Given the rich history of both the South and western Pennsylvania, she hopes to learn more about historical perspectives and get to know Crawford County by reading and recording new sources. Her project through the Davies Program is focused on recording oral histories of Crawford County residents.