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Jamestown College Opens


Jamestown College opened on this date in 1886. The newly-created college began its first fall term at 9 a.m. in the North Side School House. Although the college initially had only one student, Ms. Sadie Elliott, it would end the year with a class of thirty-five.

A college at Jamestown had been envisioned as early as 1880, when the Reverend Stevens of Fargo urged the Presbyterian Church to consider the town as the site for a school. Known only as “Jim River crossing” until its incorporation that same year, the site had been home to a growing population of settlers for nearly a decade. It marked the spot that the Northern Pacific railroad crossed the James River, and it was home to Fort Seward, which had been built to guard the railway. Despite the Reverend Stevens’s pleas, however, Jamestown was not even a contender in the Church’s earliest considerations for a college site. In 1882, the towns of Grand Forks, Casselton, and Fergus Falls had placed bids for the Presbyterian school. Casselton, offering $20,000 in cash and land, had persuaded the Presbytery in Fargo and landed the bid, but by 1883, the city had failed to meet the terms of the bid and lost the college. In response, the Presbytery solicited a second round of bids, and received replies from several places. Jamestown was able to offer a central location, $10,000 in cash, and property worth an estimated $20,000. Additionally, Captain Samuel McGinnis offered to donate twenty-seven acres of land to the venture. The Presbytery was won over, and officially offered the city the institution on October 31, 1883. Nine trustees were selected, and a charter was approved in early 1884. Building took place for eighteen months before the school was ready to open. A curriculum of five courses was initially offered, including science, classics, commercial business, music, and preparatory. The students also put on a variety of programs, debates, and musicals. By 1887, the college had built the Old Main building on the hill overlooking the city; students would climb ninety-two steps to class each day from the valley below.

Today, Jamestown College is a private, liberal-arts school offering more than forty areas of study. With nearly 1,000 students from 26 states and 9 countries, it’s hard to imagine that first day 125 years ago when only Ms. Sadie Elliott showed up for class.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job

Lounsberry, Clement A. 1919 Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History: pp. 614-24. Liberty Press: Washington, D.C.