A History and Biographical Cyclopaedia of Butler County, Ohio
Pages 58 - 61

Miami University

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The Miami University is situated in the town of Oxford, and at one time was the leading school of higher education in the West. It derives its permanent endowment from the township of land, six miles square, situated in the north-west corner of Butler County, being located on the west side of the Great Miami River, in lieu of a township of land which had been originally granted by Congress for the endowment of an "acadmy and other seminaries of learning" in SYMMES's purchase between the Miami Rivers.

Judge SYMMES had, in his published "terms of sale," made a reservation (among others) of a township of land "to be given perpetually for the purposes of an academy or college to be laid off by the purchaser or purchasers as nearly opposite the mouth of the Licking River as an entire township may be found eligible in point of soil and situation, to be applied to the intended object by the Legislature of the State." Notwithstanding this published reservation, Judge SYMMES and associates, in actual practice, disposed of their land as though there had been no reservation for college purposes, whether knowingly or not. The settlers, fearing that they would lose the whole endowment, petitioned Congress to grant them an entire township, and the result of these applications moved it to pass a law, March 3, 1803, giving a township of land on the west side of the Great Miami River, within the land office district of Cincinnati, to be located under the direction of the Legislature of Ohio, in lieu of the township intended originally to be reserved in SYMME's purchase. In pursuance of this law, the Legislature of Ohio, April 15, 1803, appointed Jacob WHITE, Jeremiah MORROW, and William LUDLOW commissioners to locate a college township, which was done in due time, they selecting what is now known as Oxford Township, Butler County, being an entire township of thirty-six sections, except section 25, and the west half of sections 11,14, and 24, which had been sold previous to the location; and to supply their place sections 30 and 31 in Milford Township and the west half of section 6 in Hanover Township were selected.

On the 17th of February, 1809, the Legislature of Ohio chartered the Miami University, and vested the proceeds of the township in the hands of the president and trustees; and appointed Alexander CAMPBELL, Rev. James KILLBURN, and Rev. Robert WILSON commissioners to select a suitable and permanent site for the university. The commissioners knowing that, in conformity to the grant made by Congress, the purchasers of land from Judge SYMMES who located high up the Miami Rivers had an equal claim with those on the Ohio River regulated their conduct accordingly. They, therefore, in their view for a proper site, looked at Dayton, Yellow Springs, Hamilton, Lebanon, and Cincinnati. By the act chartering the university, it was prescribed that it should be located in "that part of the country known as John Cleves Symmes purchase," and that the commissioners for locating the university should hold their first meeting at Lebanon, Warren County. At the time appointed for the meeting of the commissioners, the Rev. Robert WILSON was detained at home by sickness. The other Commissioners attended, and having examined all the places presented for their consideration, they selected the town of Lebanon, Warren County, as the seat of the university, and made their report accordingly to the Legislature.

It was then generally considered that the seat of the university was unalterably fixed, although many from other places were greatly disappointed; but at the next session of the Legislature a proposition was brought forward by Mr. COOPER, of Dayton, to establish the university on the College Township, without the SYMMES purchase. The law appointing the locating commissioners required that three should act, and as one was absent, the Legislature set aside the selection at Lebanon, and established the site of Miami University where it now is, at Oxford.

The first meeting of the Board of Trustees was held at Lebanon, on the seventh day of June, 1809. The trustees present were John BIGGER and Icabod B. HALSEY, of Warren County; Benjamin WHITEMAN, of Greene County; James BROWN, of Miami County; Bejamin VAN CLEVE, of Montgomery County; Thomas IRVIN, of Butler County; and John RIDDLE, of Hamilton County. John BIGGER was chosen president, and Benjamin VAN CLEVE secretary, protem.

A committee was appointed to contract with a surveyor to subdivide the college lands into lots of five or six to each section, to be laid off as nearly equal as the situation of the land, water-courses, and situations for building would admit; and to make out seven complete plats and field-notes of the survey (one for the trustees of each county in the Miami purchase), for which the surveyor was to be paid $2 per mile for all new lines to be run and marked. To this position James HEATON, of Butler County, was appointed.

The second meeting of the trustees was held at Hamilton, on the first Monday of March, 1810, William LUDLOW, John REILY, and Ogden ROSS attending, but adjourning from day to day until the 26th of March, when the following trustees were Present: Willian CORRY, James FINDLAY, Thomas IRVIN, William LUDLOW, John REILY, John RIDDLE, Ogden ROSS, James SHIELDS, and Joseph VANHORNE . Daniel SYMMES appeared next day. The board was organized by the appointment of Joseph VANHORNE as president, and John REILY, secretary, pro tem.

They passed an ordinance to regulate the leasing of the lands of the university. This provided that not more than one-third of the farm lots should be offered for lease at any one time, and at a price not less than $2.50 per acre. It also provided for laying out the town of Oxford, and directed that not more than one-half of the lots should be offered for sale. No in-lot should be sold for less than $16.66 2/3. The lot was to be subject to a quit-rent of six percent on the ammount of the purchase money, payable annually forever. The four-acre lots were not to be sold for less than $5 per acre, on the same conditions as the in-lots.

The board appointed a committe consisting of MESSRS, LUDLOW, IRVIN, ROSS, REILY, and VANHORNE to select a suitable tract of one mile square on which to lay out the town of Oxford, to designate the lots and lands to be first offered for sale, and to select certain reservations.

The board, before adjournment, appointed William LUDLOW president, James MCBRIDE secretary, and William MURRAY treasurer, pro tem.

The committee proceeded to the college lands, and, after two days spent in the examination, selected the south-east quarter of section 22, the south-west quarter of section 23, the north-west quarter of section 26, and the north-east quarter of section 27 of the college lands as the site of the town of Oxford. On this site the first portion of the town of Oxford was laid out by James HEATON. It consisted of one hundred and twenty-eight in-lots, ten poles in lenght by four poles in width; the streets six poles in width, and the alleys one pole wide; and forty out-lots of four acres each. At the first sale there were to be offered only the odd numbers of the lots in the town of Oxford, and the lands of the two tiers of sections from south to north, which included the town.

The first sale was held at the court-house in Hamilton, an the 22nd and 23rd days of May, 1810, under the superintendence of the president, secretary, and treasurer, where there were lots and lands sold to the following amount: 29 in-lots in the town of Oxford, for $560.86; 20 out, or four acre lots, for $495.75; 71 country or farming lots of land, at the average price of $3.75 per acre, $28,423.64; total, $29,480.25. The lots and land thus bid off on those days alone would have yielded an annual reveue to the institution of $1,768.81, had the purchasers complied with the conditions of sale; but many of the purchasers, residents of various parts of the State of Ohio, as well as of other States, actuated by motives of speculation, or other motives equally injurious to the prosperity of the institution, attended the sale and bid off lots, and neither before nor after the sale went even to explore the situation of the lands which they purchased. As no payment in advance, or other security, was required, it could only be known who were bona fide purchasers after the lapse of a year, when the payment of the interest became due. Of the farming lots bid off, forty-seven were forfeited, and eighteen in-lots and twelve out-lots were afterward forfeited to the institution. This provision, however, was not enforced until the year 1814.

Previous to the day of sale it had been discovered that there was a discrepancy of nearly two thoudand acres in the quantity of land in the township according to the survey made by Mr. HEATON, the surveyor appointed by the Board of Trustees, with the survey of the same township made by the surveyor-general. It was therefore made a condition that the lots of land should be subject to a re-survey and measurement, to ascertain the true quantity each contained.

The next meeting of the Board of Trustees was held at Cincinnati, on the second day of June, when, on motion James FINDLAY, it was resolved that the president of the board call on Jared MANSFIELD, surveyor-general, and request him to nominate a skillful surveyor to survey and measure the boundary lines of the Miami College township, and calculate the quantity of land, making report to the Board of Trustees, in order that if any deficiency existed application might be made for additional grant. The surveyor-general acceded to their request, and appointed William HARRIS, surveyor, to perform that duty, with John HALL and William SPENCER chain-carriers.

On the twenty-third day of June, 1810, the Board of Trustees again convened at Cincinnati, when the report of Mr. HARRIS, the surveyor, was received, by which it appeared that the township contained its full quantity of land. According to his survey there was twenty-three thousand, four hundred and seventy-one and thirteen-hundredths acres. On this report being received James HEATON was requested to re-survey and measure all the lines of the farming lots of land by him heretofore laid off, making a complete plat of it. If Mr. HEATON should decline, the president was authorized to employ some other surveyor. However, Mr. HEATON complied with the request of the board, and made a remeasurement. That previously done was found to be erroneous. At this meeting the board directed that the next sale of the university lands should be held at Hamilton, on the twenty-eighth day of August, 1810.

At this meeting the Rev. John W. BROWNE was appointed an agent to solicit and receive donations for the Miami University. He was to receive fifty dollars a month and his expenses. He set out on his mission on the fourth day of January, 1811, and returned to Cincinnati on the third of August, 1812. During his mission he collected about two thousand five hundred dollars in money and received a number of books. Mr. BROWNE was drowned shortly after his return from his mission, before he had an opportunity of meeting the Board of Trustees and settling his accounts with them. The books were sent to Cincinnati, and there remained until the latter part of October, 1817, when they were received from the administrator of Mr. BROWNE by a committe appointed by the trustees for that purpose. The executors had for a long time tried to get rid of them. The committee selected such of the books as they deemed proper for a college library. One hundred and eighteen volumes were sold to the Cincinnati Circulating Library Society at seventy-five cents per volume, amounting to $88.50. The rest of the books were sent to auction and disposed of to the best advantage. They brought $382.64, from which, after deducting expenses of sale, storage, and contingent expenses, there remained to the credit of the university, including the sum due from the library society, the sum of $371.86.

In 1820 the books reserved for the college library were sent to Oxford and placed in a room of the college building. Sometime afterwards the door of the room was broken open and a number of the books carried off. The amount that reached the tresury of the university, as the fruits of his itinerant labors, was $849.86.

At a meeting of the Board of Trustees held at Hamilton on the twelfth and thirteenth days of February, 1811, an ordinance was passed for the erection of a school house in the town of Oxford, and one hundred and fifty dollars appropriated for that purpose. Afterwards one hundred and sixty dollars was appropriated for the completion of the building. The house was erected in the university square, west of where the main college edifice now stands. It was a structure of hewed logs twenty feet wide by thirty odd feet long, one story high, with a clapboard roof. It had a fireplace and chimney at each end, built of rough stones. The building was designed (for the time being) to be used by the citizens of the township for an English school. The citizens of Oxford selected James M. DORSEY for their teacher, and in December, 1811, he moved into the building. He had a partition run through the middle of the house, dividing it into apartments, and lived with his family in one apartment and taught his school in the other. In 1824 the trustees had a second story of logs put on the building, and converted it into a dwelling for the Rev. Robert H. BISHOP, the first president. Mr. BISHOP continued to live in this building until 1830, when it was occupied by the janitor. In 1864 it was stable.

On the seventeenth day of April, 1812, Isreal WOODRUFF was appointed collector.

On the fifth day of November, 1813, William LUDLOW resigned his office as president, and John REILY was appointed in his room. In November, 1813, Stephen MINOR was appointed collector.

The trustees of the Miami University having resolved to erect a building for the use of the college, a committee, cinsisting of the Rev. Matthew G. WALLACE, a Presbyterian preacher, then of Hamilton; and Dr. Daniel MILLIKIN, a physician, of Hamilton; and Benjamin VAN CLEVE, Esq., of Dayton, clerk of the Court of Montgomery County, was appointed to superintend the erection and completion of the building.

Early in the Spring of the year 1816, a plat of ground in the university square having been cleared off of all timber, brush, and rubbish, Mr. WALLACE and Dr. MILLIKIN, two of the committee, attended at Oxford, and caused James S. DORSEY to measure and mark the foundation of the building. The ground for the foundation of the building having been leveled and prepared, and Mr. VAIL and the other contractors to perform the mason work being present, on the tenth day of April, 1816, at the request of the building committee, James M. DORSEY laid the first corner-stone of the west wing of the Miami University. It was placed about eighteen or twenty inches below the surface of the ground. According to the original plan, there was to be a center building, with wings on the east and on the west, each wing to be eighty feet long. The building then contracted for was intended to be the one-half of the west wing. Skilman ALGER was the carpenter. As soon as the necessary funds could be raised the Board of Trustees applied them to the erection of a building for the institution. In 1818, a building fifty-six feet by forty-feet, and three stories high, was erected as part of a wing.

A grammar school was then opened. The Rev. James HUGHES was appointed teacher, at a salary of five hundred dollars per year tuition fees, and house rent, and the school went into operation on the first Tuesday of November, 1818, and was continued until April, 1821, shortly after which Mr. HUGHES died. This happened on the second day of May following, and the school was discontinued. The course of instruction pursued was principally confined to the Latin and Greek languages.

During this time the Board of Trustees directed their revenue, after defraying the expenses of the grammar school, to the erection of an additional building; and in 1824 a building sixty feet front by eighty-six feet deep, and three stories high, was completed, adjoining the former building on the east, designed as a center building for the college.

October 5, 1820, Ebenezer CROSS was appointed collector, and an ordinance was passed requiring the offices of the secretary and treasurer to be held in the town of Oxford from and after the first day of January,1821. Edward NEWTON was appointed secretary and Merrikin BOND treasurer. On the first day of January, 1821, the offices of secretary and treasurer were removed from Hamilton to the town of Oxford; June 20, 1822, Joel COLLINS was appointed secretary of the Miami University; October 5, 1823, Skilman ALGER appointed collector; April 7, 1824, David PURVIANCE appointed president of the Board of Trustees.