The Work Begins


With the site of the college chosen and the land dealings complete, the next task for Reeder Smith and the Methodist Church leaders was to raise the money necessary for the new school. Mr. Lawrence had placed his $10,000 donation in trust with the Church, but that money was only available if the Methodists could match it with $10,000 of their own. In May, 1847, a meeting was held at the tiny, ten-by-twelve foot Methodist parsonage in Oshkosh, and the congregation was asked for donations. Despite the hardships they faced in the Wisconsin wilderness, the people were generous. One who was there at the time recalled that his father gave $100, "which was a fifth of all his worldly possessions, and the rest did likewise." Mason C. Darling, who was president of the Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Institute, mortgaged his property for $3,000. William Sampson felt compelled to sell his property in Fond du Lac. "I had to sell at a great sacrifice," he wrote, "but risked all, reputation and property, on the success of Lawrence."

Despite these generous gifts, the fund-raising did not go smoothly. At one point, church leaders were so far from their goal and so discouraged that they considered dropping the agreement with Mr. Lawrence. As an alternative, they discussed the possibility of accepting an offer by an anonymous "Mr. Jones" who promised 40 acres of land if the school were located in Neenah. But before that became necessary, Mr. Lawrence granted a time extension for matching his gift, which enabled the Methodists to raise the full amount. By July 18, 1848, one and a half years after the Lawrence Institute was chartered, $11,000 had been pledged (though only about half that sum was cash at hand). The next day a letter was sent to Mr. Lawrence informing him that work on the school was about to begin.

Two weeks later, Reeder Smith and William Sampson, accompanied by Joel S. Wright, a surveyor, and Henry Blood, a Methodist volunteer, moved to the the Lawrence Institute property. On August 4 and 5, 1848, they surveyed the land and began laying out plots. This was a necessary first step in the construction of the college, but it also served an important part in developing Mr. Lawrence's investment in the adjacent property. On October 7 of that year, work began on clearing a square for the school building. This was block number three, bounded by College Avenue, Durkee, Lawrence, and Morrison Streets, and currently the site of the Appleton YMCA. Hearing that help was needed, workmen drifted into the area and, by the end of 1848, five shanties had been constructed.

One of those first shanties was owned by John F. Johnston, who had moved from Menasha with his wife, Janette, and their two children, William and Marion. The Johnstons were the first family to live in what would become the village of Appleton. They were also the first to start a business, the Lawrence Hotel, which served as a lodging house for the men working on the school. In a letter. William Sampson assured Mr. Lawrence that the Johnston establishment was run "strictly on temperance principles," and that church services were held there every Sunday.

It was in the next year, 1849, that the community really started to grow. On January 6, William Sampson moved his family from Fond du Lac, and the Reeder Smith family arrived by the end of that month. By August, just one year after the initial surveying was done, thirty families were clustered around the rising school.

Because of the time taken in clearing the land and putting in roads, actual construction of the Lawrence Institute building did not begin until July 3, 1849, on the site of the present YMCA. By evening, the main timbers of the four-story building were in place, and a temporary floor was laid. The next day was given over to celebrating the Fourth of July, with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic speeches, a large dinner, and gunshots in the sky. The design for the first college building came from Boston, but the builders in Wisconsin considered the design "too plain" so they added four gables. According to one story, Mr. Lawrence was enraged when he received a picture and learned of the alterations. Although the $7,000 building was not completed until the following year, the first classes at Lawrence began on November 12, 1849, with 35 students. Classrooms, offices, living quarters for both students and teachers, as well as headquarters for the Methodist Church, were all contained in that one building. Also in 1849, the name of the school was changed from the Lawrence Institute to Lawrence University.

The cornerstone for the second Lawrence building was laid in 1853. Mr. Lawrence had written that he hoped this new structure would not be "unsightly or objectionable to refined taste." Heeding that warning, school leaders were careful to design a graceful, dignified building. It was constructed with gray stones taken from the bed of the Fox River and, when completed, became a source of tremendous pride for all connected with the school, This building became the Lawrence Main Hall, and still stands today as a symbol both of Lawrence University and the City of Appleton.