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A Brief History of Clarkson

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(The following summary has been excerpted largely from A Clarkson Mosaic, a history written by Professor Emeritus Bradford B. Broughton in conjunction with the institution’s 1996 Centennial.)

Two months after a highly successful Potsdam businessman, Thomas Streatfeild Clarkson, was crushed to death while trying to save one of his workers in his sandstone quarry on August 17, 1894, his family began planning a memorial to him: a school.

Choosing as their rationale a phrase which his sisters and nieces felt aptly described their brother — Thomas’ favorite Biblical quotation, A workman that needeth not to be ashamed — the family opened the Thomas S. Clarkson Memorial School of Technology in September 1896, in The Main Building (“Old Main”) which they commissioned to be built on Main Street.

To the five young men in the preparatory class, eight men and four women in the freshman class, six courses of instruction were offered: electrical engineering, domestic science, art, machine work and smithing, woodwork and pattern making, and normal manual training. By 1907 the school was offering additional bachelor’s degrees in mechanical, civil and chemical engineering.

Recognizing the need for a gymnasium, the students began a fund-raising campaign for the $11,000 needed to build one in town, spurred on by a $5,000 gift from the Clarkson family. By 1912, this second School building had been erected. That building became the library in 1956 after the new Alumni Gymnasium opened. When the library moved to the Educational Resources Center in 1978, the original building became the Liberal Studies Center.

When the New York State Board of Regents offered scholarships to qualified students attending college within the state in 1913, Clarkson’s Board of Trustees voted to change the school’s name to The Thomas S. Clarkson Memorial College of Technology; the head of the college became president instead of director; and John Pascal Brooks, a Dartmouth graduate, and one of the men on Walter Camp’s first All-American football team, became the first Clarkson director to bear the title of president.

Hockey began in 1921 on a rink behind Old Main, and soon moved to a bigger rink built by the students in Ives Park. Not until the hockey arena was completed on land across the river in 1938 did the team have a building in which to play. That facility was later named for the founding force behind Clarkson hockey, Murray Walker, owner of Weston’s Bookstore. Walker Arena provided home ice for Clarkson teams, which have frequently achieved national ranking, until Cheel Arena was completed in 1991.

Thomas Clarkson’s nieces, Miss Annie Clarkson and Miss Emily Moore, tried to have the entire school moved to a new campus on a hill outside of Potsdam (hence the nickname, the “hill campus”), with a gift of $1.5 million in 1929. However, because that money shrank to half a million within a year due to the stock market crash, the plans for the move had to be shelved for over 30 years. Since then, the campus has moved almost entirely to the hill, although some administrative offices and the programs in health sciences remain on the original downtown Potsdam campus.
Responding to a plea from New York Governor Thomas Dewey after World War II, Clarkson admitted hundreds of returning veterans. Having no space to house or teach them by 1946, Clarkson rented the New York State School for the Deaf in Malone, N.Y., 40 miles east of Potsdam. For the next five years, freshmen and many sophomores spent their first two years in Malone before moving to the Potsdam campus for the remainder of their Clarkson education. That branch closed in 1951.

With that flood of veterans came the Trustees’ realization that the College would have to expand its facilities, and expand them it did over the next 20 years, adding not only facilities but graduate programs in engineering, science, and management, including Ph.D. programs in most.

During that post-war period, and through the mid-1980s, Clarkson expanded both of its campuses, with many new residence halls on the hill campus, including Hamlin-Powers, the Quad, Moore House, Price and Graham Halls, Woodstock (originally planned for married student housing only), and the Townhouses. Beside them, it built the Educational Resources Center in 1978, and the added recreational facilities of the Indoor Recreation Center in 1980. The downtown campus also witnessed expansion during those years; Peyton Hall for chemical engineering, Damon Hall for civil, Clarkson Hall for electrical, and Lewis House for a student union. Clarkson also gradually took over Snell Hall from SUNY Potsdam for classrooms and office space.

In the fall of 1991, two significant developments occurred on the hill campus. Clarkson opened the CAMP (Center for Advanced Materials Processing) building, a research and teaching complex with 70 state-of–the-art laboratories, designated a New York State Center of Advanced Technology. The building was connected to the existing Rowley Laboratories and, in the fall of 1996, all engineering departments were consolidated in the CAMP-Rowley complex.

Also in 1991, the University opened the Cheel Campus Center, a combination student union and hockey arena that includes dining areas, student government and activities rooms and offices, and a post office. In the fall of 1998, the University also completed a new Fitness Center, which connects the Indoor Recreation Center and Alumni Gymnasium.

In the spring of 1999, Clarkson Hall was renovated and rededicated as the Center for Health Sciences. This downtown facility now houses the University’s programs in physical therapy, research facilities, and Canton-Potsdam Hospital Rehabilitation Services. The following spring, Clarkson opened the Adirondack Lodge as the headquarters for student outdoor recreation activities.

The newest academic building, Bertrand H. Snell Hall, opened on the hill campus for the fall 2000 semester. A wing of biochemistry laboratories was added to the Cora and Bayard Clarkson Science Center and opened in fall 2005. The Technology Advancement Center (TAC), an 18,000-square-foot addition connecting the Schuler Educational Resources Center and the Cora and Bayard Clarkson Science Center, was completed in fall 2008. Construction began for a new Student Center in May 2009. The project, which will connect all academic buildings, is expected to be completed by August 2010.