The area around Wheaton, Illinois, was first settled by Erastus Gray from Connecticut in 1831. Six years later Warren Wheaton, another Connecticut native, arrived and built a home at the corner of what is now Roosevelt Road at Naperville Street. The railroad came through, a grocery store was built, then an inn and a liquor store. Soon the population reached 800.

A number of slavery-hating Wesleyan Methodists settled in Wheaton. Horrified that their children might be trained by professors sympathetic to slavery, they decided to establish a school of their own. On a sizzling summer’s day in 1852, a group of them knelt in the grass on the crest of a small hill overlooking the rolling prairie about a mile from the train station. They prayed that “the hill and all that should be built upon it” would be dedicated to God. A plain, three-story limestone building (now Blanchard Hall) went up for $10,000, and on December 14, 1853 Illinois Institute opened under the direction of Rev. John Cross. It soon filled with students—and with smoke, for the stoves vented improperly. All smoking was prohibited at the school, students said, stoves excepted.

But the Wesleyan founders were “mostly men who had little of this world’s goods,” wrote one of their sons a generation later. “They were reformers, especially interested in the anti-slavery struggle. The purpose was not so much to start a denominational school as to provide a place where their principles should not be smothered out.”

Because they possessed so little of “this world’s goods,” the Institute failed financially, and in 1860 the trustees requested help from the wealthier Congregationalists. Jonathan Blanchard, Presbyterian pastor and academic, was appointed president. He approached Warren Wheaton for a large donation of property and offered to name the school Wheaton College. “That will at least save your heirs the expense of a good monument,” Blanchard said.

The school reopened under the Congregationalists with the support of the Wesleyans and with a Presbyterian president. And for over a century since, Wheaton College has been training young people “for Christ and His Kingdom.”

If you are smart, you will learn to understand
Proverbs and sayings, as well as words of wisdom
And all kinds of riddles.
Respect and obey the Lord!
This is the beginning of knowledge.
Only a fool rejects wisdom and good advice.
(Proverbs 1:5b-7)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Dec. 14.

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