The Marion Normal College Draft

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Troy Whonsetler


American History IUH106

22 May 2009

The Marion Normal College

Marion, a small community in northeastern Indiana, would soon have an economic boom transforming this modest environment into the “Queen City of the Indiana Gas Belt”. A series of discoveries along with remarkable individuals would bring upon Marion a revolution that was unexpected and unprepared for. Indiana Wesleyan University, the most renowned evangelical university in the nation, has its roots here and without it Marion may have well remained the rural township as it was of old. The roots of Indiana Wesleyan University spread throughout the state, especially back to the earlier colleges located here, and through these variations to Muncie and Ball State University. Effects from this university; including the rise and fall of Marion Normal College, reforms of southern Marion and its surroundings, and the transformation to Marion College and Indiana Wesleyan University upon Marion and surrounding townships has been considerable, if not astronomical.

The founding of Marion Normal College can be described as rigorous, worrisome, and particularly lucky. It all began as vast amounts of natural gas deposits were discovered in the Midwest area, essentially in the Marion region. These deposits, along with various circumstances and opportunities, caused the Grant County area to grow at an exponential rate. The origin of the university can be pinpointed to Thomas Diggs Tharp, an influential man in Grant County during the late 1800’s. Tharp was a high ranking man, holding numerous titles such as Reverend; Second Lieutenant; and specific to this story, superintendent (Elder 7). Tharp had served the public the majority of his working life, and the most influential position held was Superintendant of Grant County Schools. After working several years, Tharp resigned his position and focused on starting an institution of his own. In 1880 Tharp created a normal institute in his own residence, located on 4th and Branson, known then as the Tharp Block. Tharp’s school was well acknowledged as higher learning and did considerably well in the first years of operation (“The Marion Normal” The Marion Chronicle). Tharp soon grew weary of running an institute and disposed of the education facility to Dr. Joseph Tingley, who reopened the school in 1885 on the corner of 38th and Washington (Elder 8). For the beginning years of the college, from 1880 through to 1889, the college had been operating, but at a mediocre pace. Struggles with finances, along with slow enrollment caused Tingley to lease the institute to Professor A. Jones and Doctor T. W. Johnson in 1890. The Marion newspapers rejoiced with the new management and foresaw grand achievements in the near future, and were right to do so. Marion Normal College soon experienced vast growth with the leadership of Dr. Johnson and particularly with guidance from Professor Jones. The college offered brilliant and drawing incentives for enrollment, most notably free fuel and light while claiming “Expenses are less here than at any other institute in the land.” (“The Indiana Normal School and Business College”. The Marion Chronicle). Marion Normal College only grew from that point on and soon needed to expand. With much support from the City of Marion, Marion Normal College expanded, influenced, and reformed the south side of Marion.

The press coverage on the subject of a new Administrative building was excessive, seeming to cover every detail of the matter. This, along with several south side meetings covering the matter showed the city’s intense interest in the well-doing of the college. Marion Normal College was rapidly escalating in status and all the while increasing the economy of Marion. Marion Normal College was noted favorably by businesses all around the county, William Knight of Knight and Willcutts building and lumber company was busier than ever (“A South Side Meeting”. The Marion Daily Chronicle). The company was in the process of constructing thirty houses, fifteen of which were in direct view of the college (Elder 10), showing the earnest interest in the college and its surrounding. South Marion was booming, and citizens of the area considered themselves separate from the city as a whole, most believed that the southern section of Marion was the best in the entire county (“A South Side Meeting”. The Marion Daily Chronicle). As for population growth, the entire city grew extensively due to the influx of businesses but chiefly as a result of the successful college. A population increase was noted from around 3,800 citizens in 1888 to well over 18,300 in 1893 (Elder 12), which was during the time of rapid development of Marion Normal College at the hands of Professor Jones. Marion Normal College supported the companies of the area by purchasing materials and labor for the most part from the immediate area, furthering the Grant County economy. The most crucial point of this was in 1892 through 1894, as 562 lots around the college were being sold. The construction of “a handsome college building” was accomplished and a huge step in the progression of the college took place during this time. This event, as stated earlier had vast coverage and was eagerly awaited on by all citizens of the area. When construction was complete in 1894 a dedication event was held, in which hundreds of viewers had to be turned down, due to massive overflow of spectators (“The Turning Point – New Building At The College”. The Daily Chronicle). During this dedication service there were concerts performed by the school band and faculty members, inspiring speeches and benedictions, accompanied by optimistic response of all present. It was this service that began Marion Normal College’s strong reputation of holding the “most enjoyable affairs” in the city. This began the school’s high status, the building was equipped entirely with state-of-the-art innovations such as electric lights and was outfitted with “the latest and best scientific apparatus” (Elder 12). Soon after the construction of the Administrative Building, the college presidency was transferred to the hands of Professor C. W. Boucher when Dr. Johnson died. Boucher was a business man, and proposed to prepare the school for several more fields of study along with renaming the college Marion Normal College and Business University (Elder 20). Boucher led Marion Normal College to construct various other buildings and gain everlasting support from the Marion public. The new campus of Marion Normal College and Business University was viewed as beneficial and inspiring by all (“The Marion Normal College”. The Marion Weekly Leader). Marion Normal College and Business University continued to stun the inhabitants of Marion with unprecedented expansion and vast prosperity for the South Marion, but the next step of the college would be its last.

From the beginning, Marion Normal College was seen as a most highly esteemed educational institute and was gaining fame around the Midwest. Soon after Boucher received the presidency of the university, “Muncie people” began to take interest and proposed the university move to Muncie. Rumors had been heard that Boucher was planning to consolidate the university with several other colleges in the Muncie area. This frightened and outraged many citizens in the City of Marion; they saw the university as the town’s greatest asset and tried as hard as they might to retain the college (Elder 34). It soon became clear that the movement of the university was inevitable, and Boucher sealed the deal with Muncie businessmen in 1912. Marion Normal College and Business University collaborated with the National Manual Training Corporation, the Muncie Conservatory of Music, the Indiana Manual Training Company, and the Eastern Indiana Normal University to form the Muncie Normal College. The newly formed Muncie Normal College would soon close their doors, leading to the opening of the Eastern Division of the Indiana State Normal School from Terre Haute. Soon after this change of hands the school would become Ball Teachers College and years later convert into Ball State University. When the loss of Marion’s college became apparent; the local government, including Professor A. Jones, began to contemplate the opening of a new, bigger and better institute in its place. Professor Jones sought the cooperation and support of the town in securing property and funds for the vastly important project. Eventually, after extremely tense surprises, conflicts, and hardships; Jones acquired the buildings and funds necessary to continue the school two days before it was scheduled to open. The new school was called “Marion Normal Institute” and had successfully changed hands and faculty in time to open uninterrupted from Marion Normal College and Business University’s close in the spring of 1912 (Elder 49). Although facing losses in faculty and status from the transformation, Marion Normal Institute followed in its predecessors’ footsteps and developed at a very rapid pace. The institute grew steadily year to year, promoting the progression of Marion and the expansion of Grant County economy. Soon the City of Marion, with institution approval, added a township high school to the list of departments offered at Marion Normal Institution. The high school, Morton High, was dubbed the best in the area due to its location and facilities on the Marion Normal Institution campus. Around late 1916, state policy for funding private schools was changed adding serious financial strain on the institute. Nearly the same time the epidemic of war in Europe spread to the United States of America and called many youth to the warfront. These strains on finances combined with wartime struggles unfortunately led the institute planners to discontinue the institution and sell all property and equipment (Elder 56). Marion Normal Institute ended its last semester in the spring of 1918. Just as the institute planned on closing and selling their campus, the Wesleyan Church Conference proposed Marion as a possible site for a large new Wesleyan school (“Normal Institute Site Possible Location For Large Wesleyan School”. The Marion Chronicle). This announcement thrilled Marion citizens, and negotiations with the Wesleyan delegates began. The entire city was eager for news and impatiently awaited the outcome of the decision. After seemingly endless consideration and debating, the Wesleyan convention finally decided Marion was the prime site for their new school and named it Marion College (Elder 61). Marion College launched their first semester in the fall of 1920, two years after Marion Normal Institute ended operations. The City of Marion once again had a college!

The City of Marion had undoubtedly gained from the series of universities and institutes that have located themselves here. Population boomed in the campus area and around the county, businesses flourished as the universities expanded, and the standard of living significantly increased due to the opportunities of education and exponential growth in Southern Marion. Most people had acknowledged Southern Marion had reformed itself, and was beginning to show as the finest area in the county from the scenery of the university along with rapid development and new construction. Newspapers reinforced these theories and published articles titled “… The South End of the City Throws the Past Over its Shoulders and Goes to Work”, along with several other similar editions (Elder 16). However, the flow of gratitude is not one sided, the City of Marion poured massive funds into the development and aid of the university. They saw the university as a highlight of the city and endeavored to keep the school in operation no matter what the costs. Overall, the culmination of the area had been mutual, aiding the development of the prominent institutions of Ball State University and Indiana Wesleyan University and the magnification of the City of Marion and Grant County.