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Painting by Thomas Addison Richards

Oglethorpe University at Midway

    Oglethorpe University opened its doors in 1838 with 125 students; the civil war forcing it to close its doors in 1862. After briefly reopening after the war by 1869,  317 students had graduated. Dr. Henry Dawson Allen bought the land in 1890 and operated  Allen's Invalid Home, a  private hospital for the treatment of nervous diseases.  The summer of 1966, 104 years after the school closed, I had the pleasure of working at  Allen's Invalid Home. My best friend and I shared a room on the second floor of Thalian Hall.   I remember the dark halls,  high ceiling rooms, beautiful marble top dressers and armoires for our clothing.  A single  bathroom was at one end of the hall and  the other end  was the poet Sidney Lanier's room. Looking  through the keyhole we saw the bed, desk and other items left there when he left  and joined the Confederate army.  I had been interested in history since a child, and  it was a thrilling experience to work and live there that summer. Below is some information I have gathered about the university.
      Robert Sears in A pictorial description of the United States, embracing the history, geographical position, agricultural and mineral resources ... etc., etc. Interspersed with revolutionary and other interesting incidents connected with the early settlement of the country  wrote-  "Situated at Midway, in Baldwin County, on account of it's central position in a pleasant and beautiful region, being a place easily accessible from all directions. The spot is elevated, on a ridge lying east and west, two miles and half south of Milledgeville, and ending at the bluff on Oconee river, on which are the ruins of old Fort Wilkinson. The foundation of the edifice is on a level with the top of the cupola of the statehouse; and the view is extensive on every side, embracing an undulating surface of twenty miles round, including Milledgeville.
         The erection of the principal building was begun in 1836, and completed in 1838. It is of brick, two stories high, with a basement, in the Doric style; and being painted white, and of great extent, makes a striking appearance. The chapel occupies the center, forty-eight feet by sixty, with a colonnade and vestibule. The wings are each thirty feet in front, and three stories high with professors' and recitation rooms while other rooms are appropriated to the library, museum, apparatus, etc. Two ranges of small buildings stand at some distance on each side, each containing two students rooms; while the house of the president stands on the south side of the campus." (1). Later Thalian Hall (see photo),  a three story brick building was erected by the Thalian Society in 1859. It was designed by architect Joseph Lane.  Sidney Lanier's room was at the end of the hall on the second story and was still there in 1966.  The building was demolished in the early 1990's.
       "The institution commenced operations in January 1838 with six professors; and the first class was graduated in 1839. It is under the direction of the presbyterian synod of South Carolina and Georgia, but its advantages are free to all. There are two sessions in the year: one from the fist Monday in January to the second Wednesday in May; after which is a vacation of four weeks. Commencement is held on the Monday succeeding the second Monday in November."
       Oglethorpe University owes its origin to two manual labor schools, under the Education Society of Georgia. That association was dissolved  and in 1835 the trustees of Midway seminary, which was one of those institutions offered it to the Hopewell presbytery, who received it, and soon constituted a college, under their government and control, with a charter from the legislature. The charter forbids any shop to be open within a mile and a half of the institution, on a penalty of five hundred dollars, or more, while deeds of university lots provide for the forfeiture to it of lots on which such shops may stand. This feature has since been introduced into other charters, and has doubtless prevented many of the evils to which other literary institutions are often liable."
    Carlisle Pollock Beman of New York was the  first president of the college. After he resigned in 1840 Rev. Samuel K. Talmadge of New Jersey was elected president and served for 20 years.
     The Macon Georgia Telegraph of 11/40/1840 list the graduates of  Bachelor of Arts degrees on  Nov. 11, 1840 to C. J. Williams, F. G. Davies, Bedney F. McDonald, and W. G. Davies, of Milledgeville; C. S. Rockwell, Midway; G. W. Hardwick of Columbia County, GA; R. W. Jemison, of Bibb County, GA; John Bilbo, of Savannah.
     The Macon Georgia Telegraph of 11/29/1842 list the graduates of  Bachelor of Arts degrees on  Nov. 13, 1842 to: Theodosius B. Davies, Francis T. Cullens, T. Fort Bozeman, G. W. Fish and Charles W. Lane. Master of Fine Arts degree to Thomas E. Loyd, Charles S. Rockwell and Charles J. Williams; honorary degree of Master of Arts to Alexander A. Smetts of Savannah and Randolph A. Ramsay of Midway.
     In 1857 the university library had 4000 books, mostly donations. ( Most of these  books were destroyed in a fire at the state house in 1894 which was being used as Georgia Military College.)  It was open twice a week, one hour each time and the books were lent within a mile of the school at the discretion of the president.   There were two literary societies - Thalian and  Phi Delta.
   Some Professors: Judge Carleton B. Cole, Rev. Samuel K. Talmadge, Rev. Thomas S. Witherspoon, Rev. Robert C. Smith, Rev. J. M. Baker, Rev. Ferdinand Jacobs, Rev. C. W. Lane, Dr. Joseph LeConte, Dr. James Woodrow,  Prof. Nathan A. Pratt, Prof. Hunter, R. H. Ramsey and Charles W. Howard.
     Some Students: James S. Bedds, Mathew E. Bingham,  Tully Choice, James Cochran, Phillip Cook, Robert W. Flournoy, William Frierson Fulton, Jr., Roger L. Gamble, Fleming Grieve, John Grieve, Miller Grieve, Lemuel Kubler, Clifford Lanier, Sidney Lanier, Thomas Langston, John LeConte, Joseph LeConte, John M. McMillan, Eugenius Nesbit, Joseph Newell, Thomas F. Newell, Elisha Ramage, Robert Ramage, Whitford Ramage, William J. Sasnett, D. D. James, Col. Robert A. Smith, W. Smith, Oscar Thomas, Appleton Toney, William Toney, Andrew Weems,  Thomas H. Whitaker, and Robert Wiggins.
     When the civil war broke out students began to leave the university and volunteer for Confederate service. 50 students formed "The University Guards" which was the first local company. James C. Bonner in Milledgeville, Georgia's Antebellum Capital, wrote  "Governor Brown promised to arm them from state arsenals, but he refused to disrupt their studies by ordering them into service away from Milledgeville. Despite the governor's orders to exempt Oglethorpe students from military duty, the exodus from the campus continued. Many students such as Sidney Lanier, returned home and entered volunteer units which carried no prohibitions against service outside the state." (3) Students began to leave the university and volunteer for Confederate service.  "Oglethorpe's students suffered unusually high casualties.
     According to the Oglethope University web site, the University closed in 1862 due to the Civil War when its students were soldiers, its endowment was lost in Confederate bonds and its buildings were used for barracks and hospitals." James C. Bonner in Milledgeville, Georgia's Antebellum Capital,  wrote " 11 unknown Confederate soldiers who died at this hospital are buried at The Old Midway Cemetery as well as some students. With the exception of three students - Sidney and Clifford Lanier and Andrew Weems - the entire chapter of the S.A. E. Fraternity was wiped out by the conflict."   According to Katherine Bowman Walters, in Oconee River, Tales to Tell " the carpets from Oglethorpe University were converted into blankets."
    Classes resumed in 1866. The capital moved to Atlanta and the university soon followed in 1870. Anna M. Cook in The History of Milledgeville wrote , "The material in the Main Building was sold to the State to be used in the construction of the State Sanitarium. The steps of the T.O. Powell Building being the same as those of these famous old institution of learning."
     Dr. Henry Dawson Allen bought the university property in 1890  and established Allen's Invalid Home, a private hosptial for the treatment of nervous disease, using the  Talmadge home as his residence and Thalian Hall as a dormitory for nurses. It was used for a treatment facility for veterans of World War I.
Talmadge Avenue named after Samuel K.Talmadge  was changed to Allen Memorial Drive in honor of Dr. Henry Dawson Allen.
    All traces of the university are gone including  Thalian Hall which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The spirit of the place and memories will linger always with those connected to "Dr. Allen's".

Eileen Babb McAdams, Milledgeville, Ga.

1. A pictorial description of the United States, embracing the history, geographical position, agricultural and mineral resources ... etc., etc. Interspersed with revolutionary and other interesting incidents connected with the early settlement of the country "..Sears, Robert, 1810-1892. Boston, J. A. Lee & Co., 1876.
2. History of Baldwin County Georgia, Mrs. Anna Maria Green Cook
3. Milledgeville, Georgia's Antebellum Capital, James C. Bonner
4. Oconee River, Tales to Tell, Katherine Bowman Walters
5. 1850 Federal Census, Baldwin County
6. One Hundred Three Lost or Found Cemeteries of Baldwin County, Georgia 1814-1999, Compiled by Elizabeth L. Dawson, Louise M. Horne, and Anne M. King.
7. Oglethorpe University web site

More Information for the university can be found in these books:
Allen, Sarah Cantey Whitaker, Old Oglethorpe University - Midway, Georgia
Tankersley, Allen P.,  College Life at Old Oglethorpe

copyright Eileen Babb McAdams 2002