Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Fort Wayne Methodist College

by Tom Castaldi

After several citizens of Fort Wayne raised $13,000 and William Rockhill donated three acres of land for the college, a board of fifteen trustees was appointed in 1847, advertisements for students were printed, and one of the largest buildings then in Fort Wayne was erected.  This four-story building in the center of a campus at the end of Wayne Street held as many as one hundred students.

The curriculum was traditional, with required studies in Latin, Greek and mathematics, as well as moral philosophy, music and penmanship.  In September 1850, the fist male students were enrolled as a separate division, and the entire student body was united as the Fort Wayne Methodist College in 1853.  College life was strictly regulated.  Daily attendance was required at chapel, Sunday worship and a weekly “Singspriation.”  Smoking, chewing, drinking, dancing, card playing, visiting downtown Fort Wayne and “roaming the fields” were all forbidden.

One of the most notable students in these early years was Henry Lawton, who became a career soldier and a model hero of the later nineteenth century.  Another student, Samuel Morris, also gained considerable local notoriety.  The product of Methodist missionary work, Morris had been known in his West African tribe of Kru as Prince Kaboo.  He was converted and came to the United States and entered the Fort Wayne Methodist College in 1892.  He had a charming personality and a zealous religious vocation, which quickly made him one of the best-liked students at the college.  But, in 1893, he became ill and died.  The funeral was one of the largest ever witnessed in Fort Wayne.  The touching story of Samuel Morris’ conversion, his zeal for education and his untimely end was widely told and attracted numerous new students to the college.

Because the college had been in serious financial trouble throughout the late 1880s, the legacy of Samuel Morris became crucial to the survival of the school.  When Fort Wayne Methodist College closed in 1894 and moved to Upland to begin a new life as Taylor University, one of its first two buildings was named Samuel Morris Hall in recognition of the spirit of Prince Kaboo.

Nearly a century later, Taylor University returned to Fort Wayne and opened a branch campus on the south side of the city.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history This entry is from "Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi", March 2006, No. 20.

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