Excerpt from book available
in the new Florida History Bookstore
by Gayle Prince Rajtar and Steve Rajtar
It isn't surprising the young town of Winter Park was chosen as the location of Rollins College, Florida's first four-year college. Progressive and farsighted northern men saw their community as a southern version of a New England town and wanted their children educated in the Ivy League style.
It’s also not surprising that men from the Congregational church were instrumental in the development of Rollins College. Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth were all founded by members of the denomination. And, to no one's surprise, the growth of Winter Park echoed the growth of the cities of Cambridge, New Haven and Hanover, home to those Ivy League schools.
What is surprising, however, is that it was a woman’s dream and determination that led to the establishment of a college "for the education of the South in the South."
Lucy Cross was an Oberlin graduate and former Wellesley faculty member who, at age forty-one, founded the Daytona Institute for Young Women in 1880 and served as its principal. She first envisioned an institution of higher learning in Central Florida while a member of the Congregational church and shared this vision with her pastor, the Reverend C.M. Bingham.
An announcement at the Congregationalist convention in Jacksonville on December 6, 1883, by the Reverend S.F. Gale deepened her resolve. "Hope sprang in my heart and an idea in my mind," she remarked when she heard
that the first annual meeting of the Florida Congregational Association would be held in Winter Park in 1884.
Cross started work on a proposal to be presented at that meeting to create a local college and “felt there would be a response if I appealed to that noble body.'' Her paper was presented at the meeting on March 18 by Bingham, who said, "I do not dare to go home and face Miss Cross if I do not read this paper.”
According to the minutes of that meeting, the response was to form a committee to report on the Public School system of Florida, and higher education." The report would be given at the next annual meeting by Dr. Edward Payson Hooker, formerly of New England and the pastor of the newly formed Winter Park Congregational Church.
The idea of a local college was not entirely new to Hooker, thanks to Minneapolis business and civic leader Frederick W. Lyman, who retired to Winter Park in l882. Lyman helped found their Congregational church and thought a Christian college would be an excellent addition to the area.
Hooker agreed, and based on that suggestion, on January 15, 1884, he delivered an eloquent sermon that was well received among the locals. That made him the perfect candidate to present the report at the second annual meeting of the Congregational Association, which was held January 28, 1885, in Orange City.
The association agreed it was time to take the first step toward founding an institution of higher education in Florida. The next day, association members recommended the formation of another committee "to receive propositions from various sections of the State in regard to inducements that can be offered for the location of this college," and the competition was underway for the first college in the state.
The committee included Hooker and Lyman from Winter Park, Bingham from Daytona, the Reverend S.F. Gale from J acksonville and R.C. Tremain from Mount Dora. They eviewed proposals from those towns, as well as from Interlachen and Orange City, in preparation for the April meeting.
The competition was fierce, with each community claiming it would provide the best location for the future college. An article in the ]acksonville Florida Times-Union tried to convince local citizens of the benefit of the presence of a college.
Rollins College had high standards from the beginning because of the belief of the founders in 'the New England ideal of education, with the New England professor to elucidate it.'
It also suggested it was a bad idea “to locate colleges in out-of-the-way places, and in sparsely settled communities," which was intended as a swipe at Winter Park, which, at the time, had a population of 119 white families.
According to Lyman's account, Winter Park had the most intense campaign to gather support for the college, including house-to-house canvassing. Loyal residents felt there was no better location in the state.
The special session of the Congregational Association of Florida to consider the bids of the communities was held in Mount Dora on April 14. The Mount Dora bid included land for the campus, building materials, pledges and a microscope, valued at a total of $35,564. Daytona's bid included illustrated maps of the little-known city and $11,500 in cash.
Daytona officials estimated the value of the Atlantic Ocean al $20,000. Jacksonville had $13,000 in cash and a choice of several locations for the college; Interlachen's bid was $12,500; and Orange City had $9,326 in cash, some lumber and land worth about $1,800.
The Winter Park representative became increasingly elated during those proposals, as only he knew the extent of his offer. But he maintained his composure and even misled the gathering with a somber expression. His was the last bid, which included stock, land, and cash valued at $114,180, which elicited much despair from his competitors. Some claimed that the proposal was a dishonest one, and in an attempt to discredit the bid, they asserted that the land offered by Winter Park was underwater for a portion of the year.
Association members decided to inspect the grounds themselves and to also visit Orange City before taking a vote.
The next day, the delegates arrived in Winter Park on mule wagons, riding through the city to tour the proposed campus site along the shores of Lake Virginia. This was followed by a ride on the South Florida Railroad to Sanford and a steamer to Blue Spring to view the Orange City property.
But neither the Orange City property nor the cash could compete with the Winter Park offer, and its proposal was accepted.
The church bells rang out the news to the citizens of Winter Park, who gathered to celebrate with food, bonfires and a poem dedicated to Alonzo W. Rollins, who was responsible for their outstanding offer. Rollins was an industrialist who was born in Maine and moved to Chicago to start the A.W. Rollins and Co., but he had retired to Winter Park for health reasons. His $50,000 donation in cash and real estate secured the future of the college, which was named in his honor.
Rollins College had high standards from the beginning because of the belief of the founders in "the New England ideal of education, with the New England professor to elucidate it." A statement of unknown origin showed there were also high expectations for its success: "It is expected that Rollins College will be to the South what Yale and Harvard have been to the East, and that its fame as an institution of learning will rival theirs."
As one of the first American colleges to admit men and women, it is not surprising that the first person to earn a bachelor's degree in the state of Florida was a woman from Rollins College. That was a fitting tribute to Lucy Cross, "the Mother of Rollins College.”
It had been her words that moved the men of the Congregational church to create Florida's first four-year college. "Vocally I cannot sing,” Cross wrote, "but the song in my soul during the latter months of 1883 was a college in Florida.”
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On this day in Florida history - August
- Aug. 15, 1887 - Eatonville becomes one of first all-black towns in U.S.
- Aug. 13, 2004 - Hurricane Charley kicks off unusually active 'cane year
- Aug. 12, 1981 - Developed in Boca Raton, first PC released by IBM
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- Aug. 10, 1981 - Tragic discovery confirms death of missing Adam Walsh, 6
- Aug. 9, 1956 - Reporters look down noses covering Elvis in Daytona Beach
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- Aug. 6, 1868 - Great Seal of the State of Florida adopted by Legislature
- Aug. 5, 1763 - Britain takes over Pensacola, expands slavery over two-decade Fla. rule
- Aug. 4, 1842: U.S. gives free Florida land to settlers willing to fight Seminoles
- Aug. 1, 1939 - Florida Highway Patrol formed; to begin with 60 troopers
On this day in Florida history - July
- July 31, 1962 - Actor, tax evader Wesley Snipes born in Orlando
- July 30, 1956: Delta Burke, star of tabloids and television, born in Orlando
- July 28, 1896: With railroad into town, city of Miami incorporated
- July 27, 1816: U.S. forces obliterate 300+ free blacks, Indians at 'Fort Negro'
- July 26, 1876 - Daytona incorporated, named after founder Matthias Day
- July 25, 1884 - St. Petersburg Times debuts as West Hillsborough Times
- July 25, 1957 - Country star, actress Pam Tillis born in Plant City
- July 23, 1836 - Cape Florida Lighthouse attacked by Seminoles
- July 22, 1964 - First 536 home lots sold in new city of Coral Springs
- July 21, 1821 - St. Johns and Escambia become first two Florida counties
- July 20, 1969 - U.S. astronauts walk on the moon
- July 19, 1952 - Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins is born; stardom and tragedy await
- July 18, 1940 - Winners of St. Pete mayor's safety slogan contest announced
- July 17, 1821 - Spain officially transfers Florida to United States
- July 16, 1943 - Former 'Canes, Dolphins, Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson born
- July 15, 1997 - Killer gigolo guns down Gianni Versace at South Beach mansion
- July 14, 1921 - Florida's most famous 'cracker cowboy' dies at 58
- July 13, 1927: Officials dump $250k in liquor into Gulf Stream
- July 10, 1972 - First of two major party conventions opens in Miami Beach
- July 9, 1957 - Pass-a-Grille and three other towns form St. Pete Beach
- July 8, 2011 - Last space shuttle launched from Cape Canaveral
- July 7, 1983 - 'Operation Everglades' drug bust rocks Everglades City
- July 6, 2003 - 'Hillbillies' star Buddy Ebsen, raised in Orlando, dies at 95
- July 5, 1928 - Elks begin arriving for 1st Florida national convention
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- July 3, 1971 - Doors singer, Melbourne native Jim Morrison dies
- July 2, 1961: Key West icon Ernest Hemingway dies; cats live on
- July 1, 1951: St. Pete woman's burning death baffles investigators
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- June 2, 2008 - Bo Diddley, 79, dies at his home in Archer
- June 3, 1961 - Arrest made in case that leads to 'right to an attorney'
- June 4, 1939 - Jewish refugee ship turned away from Florida coast
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- June 6, 1990 - Broward Judge rules 2 Live Crew album 'obscene'
- June 7, 1928 - Two elections workers shot in Tampa ballot box heist
- June 8, 1888 - First train rolls into terminus "St. Petersburg"
- June 9, 1903 - Flagler's Breakers Hotel burns down in Palm Beach
- June 10, 1991 - South Florida learns it will get new major league baseball team
- June 11, 1953 - Sabal Palmetto palm becomes Florida's state tree
- June 12, 1913: With first bridge, Miami Beach is open for business
- June 13, 1974 - Askew appoints first female Cabinet member
- June 14, 1966 - FSL's Miami and St. Pete set record for longest baseball game
- June 15, 1822: City of Jacksonville founded, named after Andrew Jackson
- June 16, 1955 - Judge Chillingworth and wife go missing
- June 17. 1942 - German U-boat saboteurs land at Ponte Vedra Beach
- June 18, 1983 - Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space
- June 19, 1972 - Hurricane Agnes makes landfall in Panhandle
- June 20, 2003 - Non-profit Wikipedia established in St. Petersburg
- June 21, 1926 - Miami barbers don't want to be called 'chirotonsors'
- June 22, 1990 - Florida bans thong bikinis in state parks
- June 23, 1938 - Marine Studios, 'world's first oceanarium,' opens
- June 24, 1987 - S. Fla's most famous resident, Jackie Gleason, dies at 71
- June 25, 1981 - Dolphins QB Bob Griese retires after 14 seasons
- June 26, 1964 - Governor orders extra police to riot-torn St. Augustine
- June 27, 1964 - State tells Daytona: Stop price-gouging your tourists
- June 28, 1911 - Big Cypress Indian Reservation created by President Taft
- June 29, 1931 - Monticello hits 109 degrees -- hottest-ever for Florida
- June 30, 1975 - Cher marries Daytona Beach's favorite son Gregg Allman
On this day in Florida history - May
- May 1, 1562 - Jean Ribault arrives at St. Johns River, claims Florida for France
- May 2, 1936 - Panama City Beach incorporated in Bay County
- May 3, 1901 - Jacksonville burns to the ground
- May 4, 1990 - Execution goes awry as flames, smoke shoot from head
- May 5, 1961 - Alan Shepard becomes first American in space
- May 6, 1965 - Rolling Stones play Clearwater, write 'Satisfaction' riff
- May 7, 1940 - Voting machine shortages create long wait at polls
- May 8, 1923 - Killings of work camp prisoners detailed in hearing
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- May 13, 1955 - Jax fans chase Elvis after show, tear off his clothes
- May 14, 1973 - Skylab launches new era of space study...and toys
- May 15, 1947 - Florida State College for Women goes co-ed, renamed FSU
- May 16, 1929 - Lake City mob lynches grocer after wife shoots chief
- May 17, 1980 - Not guilty verdict triggers three days of rioting in Miami
- May 18, 1955 - Educator Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune dies
- May 19, 2004 - Drugstore chain owner Jack Eckerd dies at 91
- May 20, 1913: Henry Morrison Flagler dies in his home at Palm Beach
- May 21, 1956 - Police close beach after catching black, white teens talking
- May 22, 1931 - Canned rattlesnake goes on sale from Arcadia
- May 23, 1898 - School for Deaf & Blind issues first diplomas
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- May 27, 1965 - Mysterious land deal near Orlando revealed
- May 28, 1935 - Now controversial "Old Folks At Home" becomes state song
- May 29, 1967 - Woman jailed after 25 kids found in station wagon
- May 30, 1989: Claude Pepper dies after 60 years of public service
- May 31, 1539 - DeSoto comes to Florida, changes continent forever
On this day in Florida history - April
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- April 6, 1959 - Seminole Tribe votes to support building "Alligator Alley"
- April 7, 1890 - Author, Everglades crusader Marjorie Stoneman Douglas born
- April 8, 1923 - News of "lost" Tamiami trail blazers heats up
- April 9, 1921 - Whites kicked out of West Palm Beach "colored" town
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- April 11, 1986 - FBI shootout in Dade prompts cops' need for more powerful guns
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- April 13, 1951 - Marion County sheriff killed by forged check suspect
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- April 15, 1896 - Henry Flagler's railroad arrives in Miami for first time
- April 16, 1915 and 1917 - Aviation takes two steps forward
- April 17, 1961 - U.S. launches failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba
- April 18, 1957 - Florida to U.S.: Integration ruling unconstitutional
- April 19, 1930 - First Publix store incorporated in Winter Haven
- April 20, 1967 - Orange Juice becomes official state beverage
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- April 22, 2000 - Elian Gonzalez seized in raid, returned to Cuba
- April 23, 1982 - Keys secede from Union, create Conch Republic
- April 24, 1965 - Orlando honors hometown astronaut with John Young Day
- April 25, 1966 - Gov. Haydon Burns says his plane trailed by UFO
- April 26, 1920 - Crop shippers seizing ice, creating shortage
- April 27, 1969 - 1,000 students help during FSU admin building fire
- April 28, 1985 - World's tallest sand sculpture built at Treasure Island
- April 29, 1980 - U.S. braces for magnitude of Mariel Boatlift
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