I am sure that I voice the sentiment of very many in this assembly in saying that I am especially glad to be here; and doubtless many absent ones are saying, "I wish I were there! " And no doubt many laid away memories are brought out to-day as the sons and daughters of this church scattered far and wide turn their thoughts to this place.
The same events and scenes do not make the same impression upon different minds-you remember how as children we were wont to ask each other, "How large does the moon look to you?" --- and the veriest trifles to one deeply impress the mind of another. The things which I bring out to-day may seem trifling; they are just a school-girl's memories, laid away in a school catalogue, in an autograph album, in a sealed journal, in a tiny locket, in a bundle of school exercises, yellow with the tinge of age, the blue, red, and violet ink affected by sweet sixteen faded almost to illegibility. But the memories wrapped away in these souverirs are bright and glowing with the fire of immortal youth.
Thirty years ago or thereabouts there was in your midst an institution the full history of which has never been written. The story in brief runs something like this: A child of the village with thoroughly reliable sponsors, bright and beautiful in infancy, giving promise of still more wondrous beauty of feature and character, receiving a grievous hurt during the first year of its life, --- a hurt which crippled, and was doubtless the cause of early death, --- yet rallying for a time, gathering strength, putting on more of beauty, shedding beams of knowledge far out into the surrounding country, then growing gradually weak and sickly; finally being adopted into a Christian family --- but too late! Before the foster parent had fairly taken this weakling within its sheltering arms it died; there was not life enough to be nursed back to health and vigor even by such tonics as the Mohawk presbytery might have administered. You have already surmised that this unfortunate child with the surname foremost was Oneida Seminary.
And, too, you understand that the laid away memories which I bring to this feast of reminiscences cluster about the pile of brick which still stands in the grove at the corner of Elizabeth and Walnut streets in this village.
Some of you remember the ceremonies of the laying of the cornerstone and the eloquent address delivered by Hon. John Snow. Day after day and week after week you watched the walls rising, the finishing of the interior, and the laying out of the grounds, and there were those longing for the opportunities of education of which the building held the promise who waited with many a grateful thought toward the benefactor, Mr. Higinbotham, who not only generously presented the building lot, but otherwise aided the enterprise financially.
In December, 1858, the school opened. To those familiar with other moderately priced institutions in those days the furnishings seemed superb. The carpets, the curtains, the pianos, and the wonderful chapel clock won our admiration, but perhaps more than everything else we admired our principal! But alas! Professor Haggart proved but a broken reed. The glory of the first three months of that year only made the darkness which followed seem blacker by contrast. Some of us remember the presence of the officers of the law, the false alarm and the dreadful outcry, and heard the sound of the carriage wheels whirling off in the darkness of the rainy night, the professor having escaped under cover of the confusion. The young man who drove away with the culprit died many years ago, and no one knows what became of Mr. Haggart. Rumors that he was a colonel in the Civil War, that he was killed by accident, have from time to time reached his Oneida acquaintances, but I think nothing definite has been heard from him since that eventful night when he ran away from his creditors.
The corps of teachers whom this erratic individual had gathered about him were able and accomplished. My first knowledge of the science of angles and circles, cones and prisms, came to me under the teaching of Professor Seymour Adams, at present a successful lawyer of Cleveland, O. Mr. Adams was a favorite with his pupils, but I remember he was sorely tried with some of us who could never remember the scholiums and corrolaries.
Professor Brockway, now Dr. A. N. Brockway of New York, trustee of Hamilton College, and secretary of the college Alumni Association, was another teacher much admired by those who came under his tuition. Rev. Derby Smith, father of Mrs. Alonzao Randall of this village, who came to us from New England, was an earnest, faithful teacher of natural sciences. His death occurred some years since.
Miss Isabella McIntosh, later the wife of Rev. Mr. Graves, a presiding elder in the M. E. Church, was lady principal. She was a woman of great beauty of person and character. Associated with her were Miss Petrie, who afterward studied medicine and became quite a skillful physician, Miss Emilie Brown, now Mrs. Aiken of East Saginaw, and Miss Crumb, who still remains in her old home at Unadilla Forks. These were all delightful young women.
During this first disastrous year the Presbyterian element was not strong, other denominations being rather in the ascendancy in the faculty. I remember an incident, however, which goes to show that the element did exist among the pupils. Upon one occasion the girls of the school thought it important that certain views which they held should be expressed and transmitted to the trustees. Accordingly a meeting was called, and with less knowledge of parliamentary rules than some of us now possess, we put ourselves on record in a set of resolutions, preamble and all. When our beloved Dr. Gregory read them he remarked, "It is evident that our Presbyterian girls were prominent in this affair; anyone else would have elected a chairman, but they have evidently been reading the reports of General Assembly and have chosen a moderator."
And this same moderator of that girls' meeting is now in this audience, her hair a little whiter than my own, with the same irrepressible spirit and the same readiness of speech as of old.
The following autumn the school reopened with Rev. Geo. H. Whitney as principal and an entire new corps of teachers. Associated with Mr. Whitney was Rev. C. M. Livingston. Professor Whitney wrote in an autograph album these lines:
And this sentiment has helped over many a hard place. Pure-hearted, always a gentleman, loving his work, shedding a benign and elevating influence, the impression of his life and teaching while among us will never wear away. And who does not remember Mr. Livingston's sweet, gentle dignity, and how the service of the Lord Jesus Christ was his first thought? His intimacy with Dr. Gregory was very beautiful, and perhaps the influence of the seminary in the affairs of this church first began to be felt when Mr. Livingston took his place as a laborer in this vineyard. In the prayer meeting and in the Sunday school his earnest prayers and his soul-wining aims will never be forgotten; and in all the years that have passed he has remained the same faithful worker. He is at present a pastor at Hyattsville, Md. Dr. Whitney has been for many years the honored president of Hackettstown Seminary.
Professor D. G. Lapham, at that time assistant in mathematics, is now a lawyer in Canandaigua, N. Y. Miss Beckwith, a woman of much dignity and culture, was the lady principal. Many will remember that she afterward became the wife of Hon. John Snow. She is now a resident of Cazenovia, having remarried after the death of Mr. Snow. Miss Ledlie, teacher of music, who charmed everybody, is now Mrs. Sheffield, and resides in a beautiful home on the banks of the Hudson. At this period Miss Isabella MacDonald became connected with the seminary. Many of you will remember her; some of you were under her charge in the primary department and you will recognize her as the wife of Rev. G. R. Alden, D. D., and the author of the "Pansy" books. Her popularity makes it unnecessary to speak farther of her. And do any of you remember Lizzie Lawrence, that brave hearted woman who crossed the continent to California's shores to meet the man who had won her promise to marry him? We girls thought that a great display of faith in man's loyalty and a courageous undertaking, for the journey was not quite so easy then as now.
Dr. Whitney left during his second year to enter upon the duties of the pastorate, and Professor Livingston succeeded him as principal. It was during this term that the reverberating echo of a disloyal gun sounded in our ears and the event of the period was the raising of the Stars and Stripes. The handsome flag that floated over the seminary was made by the deft fingers of the young ladies, and the occasion was made notable by patriotic essays and eloquent orations.
About this time the Meletarian Society was at the zenith of its glory. I remember the earnest discussion of questions upon which the destiny of nations was supposed to hang, and I recall the fact that the girls were expected to take part in these discussions. That was the first equality club of which I have any knowledge!
Mr. Livingston having left in order to pursue his theological studies, he was succeeded by Rev. E. M. Rollo with an army of new teachers, Miss MacDonald only of the former teachers remaining. Mr. Rollo was a fine Christian gentleman, sensitive, refined, and gentle, entering into his work with a deep feeling of personal responsibility, and ever having the best interests of his pupils in mind. He died several years ago at Stephentown, N. Y. His daughter will be remembered as a fine musician and a very interesting young woman. She is still teaching music in Albany. During Mr. Rollo's stay there were associated with him at different periods Professors Heagle, Arnold, Davis, and Blanchard. Mr. Davis was afterward connected with the Utica Herald, and died early. He was a young man of much promise and to many his death seemed untimely.
Misses Warrinner, Park, Roby, Chatfield, Gaylord, and Doty will be remembered by many in Oneida. Miss Roby, the same bright little woman with her quaint remarks, lives in Rochester, Miss Chatfield is still making pictures in Herkimer, and Miss Doty, now Mrs. Compton, is a successful teacher in Chicago. Of the others mentioned I have no knowledge.
After this came Professors Horton, Sweet, and Houghton. Mr. Houghton has since died. I have not been able to learn of the others.
Oneida Seminary was fortunate in its teachers; they were men and women of culture and refinement, and with very few exceptions they were Christian men and women. It was no fault of theirs that the school did not prosper; in the educational sense it did prosper, but financial success eluded the grasp of everyone who had anything to do with the school. And as, unfortunately, the educational life depended upon the financial, the seminary was a last closed for lack of funds to carry forward the enterprise. As a final effort to place the school upon a secure foundation an attempt was made to put it under the control of the Mohawk presbytery, and negotiations were entered into resulting in a decision upon the part of that body to take charge of the institution, but for some cause which seems to be shrouded in obscurity the contract was never carried into effect, and the school was permanently discontinued, though Professor Davis for a time conducted a private school in the building.
I have recalled only the teachers, but there is a long list of students of whom it would give me pleasure to speak if only there were time. The first graduating class in 1860 received their diplomas at the hand of Dr. Whitney. Misses Fannie and Lottie Reed, daughters of Rev. E. Reed, who had just resigned the charge of the Baptist Church in this village, and Miss Nickerson made up the interesting trio. Miss Fannie married Rev. W. C. Briggs and died in 1873 at Blue Rapids. Lottie is the wife of a gentleman of education and culture, and is a contributor to educational journals. She resides at Blue Rapids. Of Miss Nickerson's career subsequent to her seminary life I have no knowledge.
The following year the graduating class also numbered three. I thank that was the only time the commencement exercises were held in a public hall. That year they were held in Devereaux Hall, and I assure you it was a very great occasion. My friend Mrs. Addie Soper Sherrill, who was one of the class, will corroborate my statement. I recall the subject of her essay, "The Harmony of Silence," and to those who know her and have watched the development of her musical talent will come the thought that she has ever since been making harmony in the silences. Mr. Livingston presented the diplomas, and his earnest words upon that occasion have, without doubt, been among the influences drawing us heavenward. Of Mary Burleson, the third member of the class, I have no information further than that she married Rev. Mr. Owens. After that year the classes were larger, and many of Oneida's prominent men and women were among those who took their degree at the old seminary. Among those who were pupils, many have by their patient efforts, added to natural ability, written success upon their banners. Thus we have Judge Truax, Dr. Truax, Lieutenant Commander Barnett, Assistant Auditor of Northern Pacific T. W. Fitch, Lawyers Brown, Tuttle, and Devereaux of Oneida, Professors Douglass, Downing, and Sturdeyvant, Lawyer J. L. Bennett of New York, Professor Hettinger, a successful teacher of Philadelphia, Rev. Wm. Carter, District Attorney M. D. Barnett, and millionaire Joseph Armour, founder of the Armour Mission Institute, Chicago. The two last named died some time since. There might be named a long list of successful business men and prominent women, as H. H. Douglass, Theo. Hand, Niles Hand, Will Hand, Ambrose Hill, Mary Dyer Jackson, Kate Stewart Warr, Nana Toll, Alice Frost Loomis, Fannie Farnham Selkregg--the sweet singers Minnie Brown Davidson and Florence Taft Jackson.
Then there is a long list of promoted members, those whose names we speak with a touch of sadness and of reverence-so many died young: fair-faced Nellie Frost and Florence Loomis Stark, Nellie Hand Barker with her surpassing beauty and glorious voice, bright Helen Hitchcock, Fannie Reed Briggs with her brilliant intellect; and of a merry group always associated together: Elma Berry Stone and Delia Kilts Sturdeyvant, Anna Frost, Sarah Douglass, and the artist soul Sarah Dodge, Melissa Randall Turner, Hattie Smith, and the three sweet singers Julia Dyer, Mattie Reed, and Angie Snow, John and Theodore Sturdeyvant, Barton Harvey and John Stewart, James Devereux, Frank McElroy, and Fred Rollo. These are only a few names which I have been able to recall of a long list.
What have these memories to do with this day when the Presbyterian Church of Oneida recalls its past, and traces the way along which the Lord has led? As we look over this assembly here are officers of the church, --- those who have long been the burden-bearers, those who are the spiritual strength of the church, those who have held prominent places in the choir, --- and their names are in the printed catalogues of the old seminary; and many of the members of this church who have gone on before were named in the same lists. Many whose voices are heard in the prayer meetings first learned to pray in public in the seminary prayer meetings, and some no doubt learned the way of life from the lips of the teachers in that old institution. Many of us took in new thoughts of God and his ways, to many of us life became broader and more beautiful, fuller of opportunities, and some found their life calling through the pointing of those under whose influence they came. The seminary a failure! Nay, rather a grand success! While we mourn that its career was so soon ended, we thank God for the years of its existence; we thank him for the wise-hearted Christian men and women who came as teachers, leaving among us ennobling thoughts; for the sweet singers, for those who with skilled touch caused key and chord to give out harmonies that thrilled the soul; we thank him for the artist souls who taught us how to find beauty where only an artist's eye could discover it; we thank him for those who pointed the way to Christ; and reverently we say of Oneida Seminary, "Being dead, yet speaking."
My heart is quick to rejoice with you in this signal event of the years. Fifty years of church life! What a consummation! We can number the years. Can we measure them? Hopes and fears; griefs and comforts; afflictions and consolations; life and death. What a commingling! How easy it is to cry to-day: Precious memories are hurrying up into thought. This is a glad, sad, quickening commemoration.
There is more water than land in the world. Some may think that the proportion holds good in human life between tears and laughter. Yet may we not all believe as we think back through the years that:
I can remember twenty-five of the fifty years. Dream years, real years! Boyhood and early manhood. I think that my boyhood must have been at the transition period of this church life, at the time it was passing out of its first quarter into its second quarter. The contrast to-day is significant. To-day the church has a well-organized, vigorous and efficient Christian Endeavor Society. We had no such thing twenty years ago. We were good enough to have it then; you will acknowledge that. But what you enjoy to-day you owe largely to the past. I remember how we tried to organize a Young People's Association. Some of us boys and young men met in the session room of the old church. Wishing and praying and clasping hands, we determined to organize. Then shortly after some of the young men and women met at a private house, and quickened by the presence and suggestions of Pastor Jessup, we formally organized what has since been transformed into the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor.
The whole church life has, I think, been transformed since then, and through it all Pastor Jessup has passed patiently, faithfully, and efficiently, himself transformed from a plain preacher into a doctor of divinity.
Many of my quickening memories attach to that beloved personality. For he it was who first led me to Christ. No, not he, but my sainted mother! Her words and prayers did that. But Pastor Jessup led me to the session. He first administered the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to me. And to him I am indebted for many wise words, cautions and suggestions which at first I did not fully appreciate, but now value highly. But my memory centers not in this new church edifice. I think of the old church, the dear old white church! --- not so white as it might have been, perhaps. It did need a little scrubbing within and without, but what of that? No preaching ever seemed better than that of the old pulpit's utterance. No Sabbath school since then has seemed quite like that of the old church. No church bell ever sounded more sweetly to me than that of the old church tower--especially when it rang the glad news that the sun was shining and it was all right for the picnic! But the old church has been removed; a fine new structure is in its place--a bank building of splendid proportions for the laying up of treasures on earth. Yes, but the dear old church was for the laying up of treasures in heaven! Ah, Time, we may laugh at you to-day. You can demolish structures, but you cannot demolish memories!
Young men and women, be strong for this church of God and loyal to it. Place within it a reason for many precious memories for the future's retrospect. And may the dear Lord of life who has so graciously led us up to this present time still lead us on until he calls us home!