A sketch of the early campus around what is now Mills Lawn.

By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70






Lucy Cross

Lucy Cross


The Vision in the Garden

A teacher sat midst the garden flowers
And dreamed a dream in the quiet hours;
She dreamed of youth with an ample chance,
And she planned for youth in her visioned trance.

The flowers vied from their beauteous bloom
To shed for her each its best perfume;
"She dreams a college," the poppy said,
The blushing rose bowed its gracious head.

From heart to heart the vision flew,
And noble souls made the dream come true.

-Robert Shailor Holmes
Dedication from the 1925 Tomokan

"Joy to the Park, the school's begun!"

South Florida Sentinel, November 11, 1885



One afternoon in 1880, in a garden in Daytona, Lucy Cross had a vision. She imagined a college in Central Florida, and it took her five years to see her dream become a reality.

With Edward P. Hooker, Frederick W. Lyman, and C. M. Bingham, all members of the General Congregational Association of Florida, Lucy Cross worked first to win support for the idea of a college in Florida and then for its realization. By January 1885, the Association had agreed upon the need for an institution of higher learning sponsored by the Congregational Church and had decided to accept bids for a site. The meeting to hear bids, or “inducements” as they were called, was held in Mount Dora. Offers from Jacksonville, Mount Dora, Orange City, Daytona, and Winter Park were heard, and the pledges ranged from $10,000 to $114,000.


Alonzo Rollins

Alonzo W. Rollins

The undisputed winner was three-year-old Winter Park. The first college in Florida was named for its largest benefactor, Chicago businessman Alonzo Rollins. Rollins College was incorporated on April 28, 1885. Frederick Lyman was named president of the corporation, and Edward Hooker became president of the faculty. Classes were scheduled to begin in the fall. But there were many questions to be answered first: Where would the classes be held? Who would teach them? What would they teach?

And who would be the students? Although Rollins College was founded to meet a real educational need in Florida, its potential student body was limited. With its traditional classical curriculum, few local students were qualified for admission. The solution: Rollins also opened preparatory and sub-preparatory schools, designed to fill the educational gap in Central Florida and to provide the College with qualified students. The Academy continued to graduate students until 1923, when the public school system had developed sufficiently to assume the responsibility of preparatory education.

The College identified its objectives as twofold: to serve Florida’s educational needs and “to provide an opportunity for youth of the North, whose health demands that they should spend a considerable portion of the year in a more genial climate to pursue their studies, and at the same time confirm their health” (Annual Catalogue, 1888-89). For many years, Rollins catalogues and advertising efforts focused on the healthful environment of Central Florida. In addition, Winter Park was commended as a “community ... of unusual culture”: “Being without saloons and places of doubtful amusement, students are safeguarded from temptation and their attention is not distracted from their work” (Annual Catalogue, 1905-06).

Pinehurst Boys, 1905

Pinehurst Boys, 1905


An unsatisfactory arrangement, does someone say?
Yes.

An uncomfortable housing?
Yes.

An inadequate equipment?
Yes.

An unworthy beginning?
No.

-Frederick Lyman
"The Early Days of Rollins College: A Reminiscence"


The infant College had sufficient funds to construct two buildings: Knowles Hall, funded by Francis B. Knowles, and Pinehurst Cottage. Unfortunately, neither building was ready for occupancy as planned, and President Hooker and his faculty of six had to find alternative space, and find it quickly. The night before Rollins opened its doors to its first class of 66 students on November 4, carpenters worked frantically to convert the Congregational Church into a classroom. Shortly afterward, classes were moved to White’s Hall, a loft above a grocery store; by March 1886, classes were being held in Knowles Hall on campus.

Students had been housed in two buildings near campus, and the women were ultimately moved into Pinehurst. Rather than housing students in large dormitories, Rollins adopted the “cottage plan.” As the catalogue of 1885 described it, “Each cottage will be under the care of a matron, who will be watchful of the health, happiness and general welfare of the students, and throw about them the atmosphere of a cultivated, cheerful Christian home.”

By 1887, the College had “four tasteful buildings.” A dining hall and a men’s residence hall, Lakeside Cottage, had been added. Lyman Gymnasium, “the best equipped gymnasium in the South,” was dedicated in 1891, followed a year later by a women’s dormitory. Although the men’s residences had names, this new building was known only as the “Girls’ Cottage.” The student body objected to this inequity, claiming, “If the boys and girls are to be admitted to this college upon equal terms, let them be equal, and do not relegate the girls to a nameless home” (The Sand-Spur, 1895). The residence was christened “Cloverleaf Cottage.” Pinehurst was transformed into a classroom building and library.



 The Rollins "Family," including students of the Rollins Academy, 1898-99.

The Rollins "Family," including students of the Rollins Academy, 1898-99.


I shall never forget the enthusiasm with which we marshalled all our cohorts to the station to welcome the first (I had almost said only) boarding students; and I remember, too, the pride which I felt when our dining hall could boast of three tables of eight boarders each, the total twenty-four including several teachers, myself, wife and housekeeper.

—George Morgan Ward
Rollins College Bulletin, 1907


A sketch of a train locomotive.

Rollins’ early years were not easy; it must have seemed to the founders that each time they thought they had financial stability in their grasp, it was snatched from them. The state suffered the first of several severe freezes in 1886, followed by an outbreak of yellow fever in 1887 and 1888. Jacksonville was under quarantine and Winter Park citizens would not permit anyone to disembark at the local train station. Both enrollment and income were sharply reduced and there was concern the College might not reopen in 1888. But, thanks to the efforts of President Hooker, Rollins was able to rebound in 1889. Rollins graduated its first class a year later.

President Hooker’s failing health led him to resign in 1892, to be followed by Charles Fairchild, who remained a year and a half. In between presidencies, Professor John Ford stepped in as acting president. Just in time to help Rollins recover from two more freezes, George Morgan Ward was inaugurated as Rollins’ third president.

President Ward established a barter system to help parents pay tuition. Cost of a year at Rollins then totaled $182.00, and President Ward accepted payment in potatoes, molasses, lumber, and turkeys. When the payments were delivered, students, faculty, and administration joined together to help unload the goods.

The College catalogue of 1895-96 announced a shift towards “practical” education. Normal classes trained women to become teachers and a business school was formed in 1897. It offered a choice of commercial, shorthand, or telegraphy courses. By 1897-98, Rollins claimed students from 16 states and one foreign country. In Cuba, the Spanish-American War was disrupting daily life and many families were sending their children to the U.S. Rollins, with more Cuban students than any other American institution, initiated special courses to teach them English.

The course in arts and science, which leads to the degree of Bachelor of Arts, has for its main purpose ... the education of a broadly cultured man or woman, who can think clearly and express his thoughts in a manner that will secure the sympathy and comprehension of his fellows. It aims to provide the resources which will not only make a man his own best companion, but will also enable him to meet unexpected problems and emergencies in an adequate manner.

—Annual Catalogue, 1919-20


The curriculum was modernized along the lines of what was being done at Yale, Princeton, and Vanderbilt. Rather than emphasizing Greek and Latin, the new pro gram called for studies in general and elective areas, with “great stress ... put on special work.” This early equivalent of the major was embraced in the belief that “it is better to know one subject well than to acquire a smattering of many” (Annual Catalogue, 1896-97).

“Special” studies available included modern languages, natural sciences, moral and political science with history and English, and combinations of all these with Latin. Each graduating senior was required to write a thesis relating to his or her special area. Titles of theses presented in 1917 included “The Rural Schools of Florida,” “West Virginia Coal,” and “Russia as a World Power.” A grade-point system of 10 was in effect; an average of seven was required to pass.

President Ward resigned the presidency in 1902. He remained a year as professor of economics and law and then left to become president of Wells College in New York. It was not Ward’s farewell to Rollins, however; he was to return twice in future years to steer the College through financial crises as acting president.


What a simple thing it seemed that night to build a college. The enthusiastic company ... could almost see the completed buildings in a stately grouping in the beautiful campus thronged with eager students. [What they] could not see was the strain and stress, the burden of anxiety and debt, the days and nights of struggle for existence, the sorrow and travail of the years ahead.

—Frederick W. Lyman
"The Early Days of Rollins College: A Reminiscence"

None of Rollins’ early presidents seemed able to avoid disaster. President Ward’s successor, William Fremont Blackman, faced a national depression followed by inflation, diminishing enrollment as new state and denominational schools were opened, and the loss of two of the school’s buildings. Yet, during his presidency, he raised $400,000 (half of which was permanent endowment), won the support of the Carnegie Foundation, convinced the Florida legislature to authorize teaching certification of graduates of private schools, added seven new buildings, and saw Rollins athletic teams win intercollegiate championships in football, basketball, and baseball.


Female students baking in a home economics class, 1919-20.

Home Economics Class, 1919-20.


Under President Blackman, Rollins’ objective became “to secure a symmetrical development of body, mind and spirit.” The original plans to organize a Department of Industrial Training were expanded to incorporate a School of Domestic and Industrial Arts. The first classes were in cooking and basketry and were directed by the wives of the resident trustees. Over the next few years, classes were added with “special attention being given to the conditions of housekeeping in Florida.” Industrial Arts courses were transformed into the School of Applied Arts and were ultimately moved into the School of Fine Arts. Rollins also maintained a School of Expression (originally known as the School of Elocution) and a School of Music.

At the present time the library contains five thousand six hundred and eleven volumes. Most of these are useful books.

—Annual Catalogue, 1917-18


From its first days, the campus had grown up around the horseshoe-shaped drive, and in 1907, the plan of the campus was formalized. A main horseshoe drive was to divide the campus, with a men’s quadrangle and horseshoe drive to the east and a women’s quadrangle and horseshoe drive to the west. To accomplish this, Cloverleaf and the Dining Hall were moved in 1908.

February 18, 1909 saw the dedication of two new buildings: Carnegie Hall, the new library and administration building named for its donor, Andrew M. Carnegie, and Chase Hall, a men’s dormitory named for Loring A. Chase, a founder of Winter Park.

It is, I believe, a sober guess that ten millions of people will ultimately have their homes in Florida... And it is for these millions, not for today, that we are building this college.

—President William F. Blackman
Inaugural Address, 1903


On December 2, 1909, between 2 and 3 a.m., tragedy struck when Knowles Hall was destroyed by fire. Only two typewriters were saved. Students rushed to help; without their aid, Pinehurst, too, would have burned to the ground. As it was, the side of Pinehurst that faced Knowles fell away from the building in flames. Insurance on Knowles Hall covered about half the loss. Andrew Carnegie and the Knowles family stepped forward and donated funds to build a new Knowles Hall. The building was dedicated 25 years to the day after the original.


Students stand beside the still-smoldering remains of Knowles Hall, 1909.

The burning of Knowles Hall I, 1909.


One item that could not be replaced in the new Knowles Hall was the original bell; it had been used to call students to classes and meals, and, each New Year’s Eve, to ring out the old year and ring in the new. On December 31, 1899, two Rollins men rang in the new century with 1900 peals of the Knowles Hall bell.

In 1912, students extinguished a fire in Pinehurst, and in 1916, the women students grabbed brooms and buckets and held back a fire that threatened Cloverleaf. The men joined in with the fire hose to finish the job. The annual catalogue began to carry reassurances of the sophistication of the fire security system as well as the earlier announcements of the absence of malaria.


Students stand in canoes at "The Point" on Lake Virginia, 1893.

Rollins boys at "The Point," Lake Virginia, 1893
(Rollins campus in the background)


With America’s entry into World War I, Rollins men began drill sessions and Rollins women formed a Red Cross Auxiliary unit and adopted war orphans. The Alumni Association committed its treasury to purchasing a war bond. Rollins soon had its share of men in the armed forces and each fraternity and dormitory displayed its service flag. All told, 106 Rollins men and women were in service. Enrollment was drastically reduced and it was not until 1921 that sufficient men were in attendance to again field a football team.

Under the direction of Acting President Ward and Presidents Calvin H. French, Robert J. Sprague, and William C. Weir, Rollins’ curriculum continued its evolution. In 1916-17, Rollins offered Master’s, AB, BS, and BL [Bachelor of Literature] degrees, as well as Artist’s Diplomas and Teacher’s Certificates from the Conservatory of Music.

By 1920, Rollins was offering pre-professional courses in law and medicine. Nineteen twenty-four saw Rollins working toward membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities. The College was also working towards what was known as the “Rollins Union”—endorsement by three church associations (one Congregational and two Presbyterian), which would provide critical financial support.

Rollins became truly international in the Twenties: Rollins teams faced the University of Havana in football and basketball, and Rollins’ own radio station, WDBO (“Wander Down by Orlando”), was heard as far away as Canada. Lucy Cross probably had no idea how far her dream would grow, and the journey was just beginning.



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