Stately lady has witnessed Galesburg history in making

Tracking History

Tom Wilson
NEWS

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Rev. George Washington Gale had a dream in the 1830s that led to the establishment of Galesburg, Ill., and the formation of a manual labor college called Knox. The first 25 settlers arrived in 1836 and built temporary cabins in Log City near what is now Lake Storey.

One of Gale's objectives for Knox College was to offer equal educational opportunities for both men and women. In 1843 a Female Seminary Building was in operation near the intersection of Seminary and Simmons Street. Unfortunately the structure burned to the ground shortly after opening. An Academy Building was then built on the Public Square area in 1847 with the upper floor devoted to educational facilities for Knox College female students.

Seven years later in 1854 Gale's fledgling town began to flourish when the CB and Q Railroad began operations. Knox College donated land needed for the railroad's expansion. The college grew to 66 women and 51 men enrolled in full-time classes. In 1857 Knox College expanded with the construction of two major buildings that remain viable today.

A five-story Female Seminary building was constructed to Tompkins Street between Broad and Cherry streets at a cost of $30,000. The facility was designed to accommodate 90 female students and included sleeping rooms, dining facilities, study and classrooms, music and art studios and a chapel. The population of Galesburg rose from 323 in 1850 to 5,455 seven years later. Also at the time of the new Female Seminary, Knox also unveiled the "Old Main" building across the way on South Street. In 1858 the legendary Lincoln-Douglas Debate was held on the east lawn of Old Main. It is interesting to note that Knox College sold 90 acres of land in the area of what was to become East Galesburg in 1849 to Henry Grosscup a German stone mason. Grosscup paid the college in bricks that were used to construct both the Female Seminary and Old Main.

In 1864 the Female Seminary on Tompkins Street was renamed Knox Female Seminary. In 1879, Maria Whiting was hired as principal of the Female Seminary. Whiting previously had been the manager and instructor of the Institution For The Blind in Janesville, Wis. Whiting instantly became well regarded by Knox female students and greatly improved the educational aspects of the seminary.

Whiting donated $5,000 in 1885 to construct an East Wing to the seminary. The addition became one of the first buildings in the community to have steam heat. The top floor contained a library and reading room, the ground floor a dining room and kitchen and the first floor a chapel and music rooms. Shortly thereafter the Knox trustees named the wing in honor of Maria Whiting. Whiting died in 1894 following the addition of a west wing to the seminary for the boarding of 124 women students. Following Whiting's death the Knox trustees renamed the seminary as it is called today, Whiting Hall. Whiting Hall recently celebrated its 150th birthday. The structure has offered housing for the elderly and handicapped for the past 25 years and is managed by Jeanne Clark.

Whiting Hall has witnessed the construction of the Knox County Courthouse, Galesburg Public Library, Beecher Chapel, First Baptist Church, Old City Hall, Galesburg High School and the current City Hall and Public Safety Building in the immediate neighborhood. Abraham Lincoln slept, dined and bathed in Mayor Sanderson's home that was in the backyard of Whiting Hall following the Lincoln-Douglas Debate.

Whiting Hall still stands tall as one of the most valuable assets of Knox College and Galesburg. George Washington Gale would be quite proud that his Female Seminary has survived so much in her lifetime.

Tom Wilson is a local historian. Write to him at wilsont29@insightbb.com or at The Register-Mail, 140 S. Prairie St., Galesburg, IL 61401.

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