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Loomis Hall at Shurtleff College was built in 1832.

Jamie Douglas
Civic Memorial High School, Bethalto

Nestled on College Avenue in Upper Alton are the buildings that once housed Shurtleff College. Amidst little of the hustle and bustle of past years, those buildings are now the site of the Southern Illinois University Dental School.

Reverend John Mason Peck, D.D., first arrived in Alton in 1817, sent by the Baptist Triennial Convention to the St. Louis area as a missionary. He decided a theological school was needed in Illinois. Peck then established a school near Belleville in 1827. Only twenty-five students attended. He moved the school to Upper Alton in 1832 and named it the Alton Seminary. Loomis Hall, a two-story structure, was built and originally housed the entire college. It was used as an academic hall, administration building, and the college library. It also served as a meeting place for Upper Alton Baptist congregations for several years before their church was completed. The hall got its name from the Reverend Hubbell Loomis, one of the first instructors at the school. He taught theology and mathematics. Loomis also served as the first principal to the Alton Seminary. Loomis Hall has the distinction of being one of the oldest education buildings in Illinois in continued use.

On October 8, 1835, Dr. Benjamin Shurtleff of Boston gave a generous grant of ten thousand dollars to the trustees of the Alton Seminary. Half of the sum went toward the construction of buildings. The other half was used for a professorship of oratory. On January 12, 1836, the Alton Seminary's name was changed to Shurtleff College in gratitude to Shurtleff's generous donation. From 1835 to 1841, Shurtleff College enrolled an average of eighty-eight students. In 1864 enrollment declined when most of the attendants left to participate in the war. The college closed for six months that year.


Most of the graduating class went into the army. Many of the students went on to become majors, colonels, brigadier generals, and major generals. By 1876 Shurtleff College was deeply in debt, and the trustees hired the Reverend G. J. Johnson as the school's financial agent. He, along with the Reverend J. Bulkley, raised about seventy-five thousand dollars, enough to get Shurtleff College back on its feet again. In 1910 the college received fifteen thousand dollars from Andrew Carnegie for construction of a library. In 1938 Shurtleff gained the national spotlight when Robert Wadlow enrolled. Wadlow, fondly remembered as the "Alton Giant," was the world's tallest man at the time, measuring eight feet, eleven inches in height. He was born, educated, and buried in Alton.

In 1950 Shurtleff reached its peak enrollment of seven hundred students. Shurtleff College also had its largest number of graduates that year—ninety-nine. Unfortunately, 1957 was a bad year financially for the college, and Shurtleff College was forced to close its doors. The following September, an offer was made to buy the old Shurtleff buildings. When the offer was accepted, the school was made part of Southern Illinois University (SIU), and this name is still used. Students attending Shurtleff were allowed to finish their education under the auspices of SIU. The last twenty-eight students of Shurtleff College graduated in 1958. The college's first year as SIU witnessed an enrollment jump to twelve hundred students. In two years the enrollment doubled to twenty-four hundred. The Alton campus flourished until 1965 when SIU opened a campus at nearby Edwardsville. In 1972 SIU decided to use the Alton campus for a branch of dental medicine. In its first year as a dental school SIU enrolled twenty-four students.

Today the campus seems to be back to the quiet, peaceful school it was when Shurtleff students attended classes. A statue of Robert Wadlow, "Alton's Gentle Giant," keeps a constant vigil over the quiet campus that was once his alma mater.— [From Charlotte Stetson, Alton: A Pictorial History; Alton Illinois; Austen Kennedy DeBlois, The Pioneer School; The Telegraph, July 25, 1986, June 3, 1989; W. T. Norton, Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois and Its People.]


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