Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories in a series on Albany College.
During its 70-year lifetime, Albany College helped put Albany on the educational map. But it wouldn’t be the institution that built the city’s future.
Established by charter in 1867, the college’s fortunes fluctuated with its financial status, which was never fully stable.
Trustees began offering classes in Portland in 1934 to capture tuition dollars available there. The campus made a permanent move north in 1938 and the college was renamed “Lewis & Clark” in 1942. Albany was left without an institution of higher education until the founding of Linn-Benton Community College in 1966.
In its time, however, Albany College made a formidable name for itself.
In its early years as the Albany Collegiate Institute, it was one of the places women could find an equal opportunity. According to “Lewis & Clark College: 1867-1967, by Martha Frances Montague, the college offered identical schedules to both genders, although women could, on request, sub out higher math courses for additional levels in English.
College officials insisted both men and women be educated together, stating the approach would make both genders better-mannered and spur both to greater academic heights. The first graduating class, in 1873, was comprised solely of women: Maria Irvine, Cora Irvine, Weltha Young and Mary Hannon.
The school also was a pioneer in women’s sports, with its women’s basketball team earning the state championship in the 1904-05 year with a playoff win over Oregon Agricultural College.
In the early years of the 20th Century, Albany College music students performed on radio broadcasts; its debate teams traveled the state. In 1903, its football team defeated Oregon Agricultural College (later OSU) 6-0 to take the state championship.
At the same time, however, money struggles were never far away. The college had no endowment for most of its early years and often had trouble making payroll, let alone investing in facilities or supplies.
By the fall of 1895, Albany College was at a crisis point, $11,000 in debt between a mortgage and notes held by Albany citizens. Foreclosure proceedings had begun.
A trustee and an Oregon senator stepped up to pay the overdue interest and bring the debt down to $8,500. College officials begged other Presbyterian churches for help and raised $6,000.
Albany residents pulled together to bring in the remaining $2,500 through “Albany Day,” held March 5, 1900. The college spent the day going door to door, eventually raising enough cash and pledges to wipe out the debt with $1,200 to spare.
Churches and residents continued to support the school over the next several decades, but the challenges remained. Enrollment dropped during World War I. The college lost its accreditation in 1920 because of teaching overloads, too few buildings and inadequate libraries and laboratories, a designation not reestablished until 1931.
The high point for Albany College was perhaps a few years into the ’20s, with salaries paid and the beginnings of a building fund in place. A campaign to raise $600,000 brought in enough to break ground on a new administration building.
But then came the stock market crash and the Great Depression. College officials slashed faculty pay in half and cut the $35-per-semester dorm charge by $10. Some instructors accepted student-performed housework as part of their salaries. A Democrat-Herald article reflecting on the tough years noted one farmer brought a load of turkeys in lieu of tuition, on which staff members dined for weeks.
It was during the Depression years that Abram Groening — dean of Albany College and the man whose grandson, Matt, would one day bring “The Simpsons” to the television-watching world — joined trustees who were advocating tapping the Portland market for new enrollees. Students up north wanted to enroll, he argued, and all Albany College had to do was bring the classes to their door. In 1934, the college began a pilot program to do just that.
Martha Frances Montague’s “Lewis & Clark College 1867-1967” notes Albany residents strongly opposed the move, but didn’t have much support. Financial backing was dwindling, and only six of the college’s 36 trustees were local, with any stake in the town. Albany College celebrated its last Albany commencement in June 1938. By September, relocation was permanent.
Today, Lewis & Clark College is one of the state’s largest private colleges, with a 2013 enrollment of about 3,500 students and more than 1,000 employees across three schools. It enrolls graduate students in law, education, psychology and counseling. International students represented 9 percent of the College of Arts and Sciences enrollment last year.
It’s hard to get a definitive grip on the what-ifs of Albany today, but based on the city of Lebanon’s experience with The College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest, it might feel different if Albany College had stayed.
Mayor Paul Aziz of Lebanon said the demographics of his town began to shift toward a younger, more education-driven populace with the establishment of COMP-Northwest in 2011.
The college has prompted additional housing complexes, a new hotel and interest from niche-style restaurants such as Momiji Sushi and the new craft beer Growler Cafe. The city’s new veterans home is linked with Samaritan Health’s overall development plan for the area. Job opportunities are rising, he said, along with optimism for the future.
“There’s a lot of people in town really energized,” he said.
True, Aziz acknowledged, the students tend to be older, more focused on their studies and less inclined to throw a kegger on their lawn (neighbors around Oregon State University sometimes express a less-than-rosy view of an undergraduate institution). And service-style jobs don’t pay industrial-level wages.
And that, perhaps more than anything else, is why Albany may have gotten the better end of the deal. When the Bureau of Mines went looking for a Northwest site to build a regional research laboratory in 1942, Carl “Zeke” Curlee, manager of Albany’s Chamber of Commerce, had just the right place. Out of that deal grew ATI Wah Chang, Oremet, Selmet and Pacific Cast Technologies, all of which built the foundation for the city’s future.
“Though regretted and protested by many local citizens at first, the removal of Albany College to Portland has proven a wise one, for the school, and a beneficial one for Albany, as it turned out,” publisher’s assistant Wallace Eakin wrote in a 1967 Democrat-Herald editorial: “— a blessing in disguise.”