From our founding in 1875 to the official launch of our 140th Anniversary celebration earlier this month, the story of Park University is rich with images. We’ve shared a few images so far this year, and we have many more yet to come, but what we share via social media will only scratch the surface.
This fall, we are publishing a book sharing many more of the stories and images of Park’s history. Fides Et Labor: 140 Years of Pioneering Education, is filled with stories and photos covering the last 140 years as the institution grew from a small Presbyterian school with 17 students, built on the banks of the Missouri River, into a world-class provider of higher education to more than 20,000 students on 42 campuses and online.
Below is an excerpt from the opening chapter of this 160-page book. Visit advancing.park.edu to read an extended version of this excerpt, and place your pre-order to guarantee a copy, as we are printing a limited number.
The Original Seventeen
Accounts differ on exactly who arrived in Parkville first. What can be confirmed is that during the first few weeks of April 1875, Rev. John McAfee, his wife, his six children, and 17 students converged on Parkville in preparation for the opening of the newly-created institution. T.D. Roberts, his wife Emma, Lizzie Adams, and John Rulo arrived by train during that time, while another group of students arrived in a covered wagon bearing the words “Parkville or Bust.” The McAfee family and the remainder of the seventeen students arrived by train on April 13, 1875.
After the McAfee family and Park College’s first students (nicknamed the “Original Seventeen”) arrived, they immediately began cleaning and fitting the hotel for habitation and rudimentary classrooms. This “Augean task” took an entire month, as the building was in shambles. “The Park College Record” described the building thus: All possibility of meaningful commerce had been destroyed by the border conflict and by the Civil War. Horses had been stabled in the cellar during the war and other parts of the basement had been used to store ice for Parkville’s many saloons, one of which had been in the hotel. No one had bothered to remove the rotted manure and sawdust.
Descriptions vary, but the tenants included one family, the M.E. Church, a store and shipping room for fruit and vegetables and countless rats. Ceilings had collapsed and debris was everywhere, inside and out. In addition to the poor condition of the hotel, the group was forced to deal with the 1875 grasshopper plague that decimated crops in much of western Missouri.
By May 12, 1875, part of the structure was habitable, and classes began on a day which has been traditionally referred to as “Founders’ Day.” Most of “The Original Seventeen” were the remnants of the aborted work program that Rev. McAfee had initiated at Highland University. Most enrolled in college level classes, and four of them (three women and one man) were ready to graduate in 1879. As planned in the founders’ agreement, the three men wrote a charter, in which they shortened the name to “Park College,” then appointed a board and formally inaugurated the college.
Whether they were part of the graduating class of 1879 or a subsequent year, the Original Seventeen all benefited from Rev. McAfee’s vision for a college “where ordinary people could come and work to earn an education” as long as they were willing to work. Park College was the product of the forward-thinking nature of Rev. McAfee in an age when only the wealthiest young adults attended college.