Momentum from the Beginning
Throughout its history, St. Lawrence's benefactors
have made the difference.
According to the University's centennial history Candle in the Wilderness,
in 1853 Thomas Jefferson Sawyer, an influential Universalist minister,
called for a theological school of 10 to 12 students, with a building
containing a chapel, library, student rooms, kitchen, dining room and
maintenance shop. He also proposed a $20,000 fund-raising campaign to
build the building. He had been agitating for such a venture since as
early as 1835, but this time the idea caught on.
That first campaign went over the top, largely because, in a before-the-fact “town-gown” goodwill
gesture that blended altruism and entrepreneurialism, the people
of Canton and St. Lawrence County, where Universalism was a dominant religion, contributed
$15,000 and offered 20 acres of farmland if the school would come
to Canton .
And so it did. The building was built; named College Hall, it later
became Richardson Hall. The institution was chartered by the State of
New York on April 3, 1856; named St. Lawrence University, it consisted
of the Theological School and also a separately administered “unsectarian” College of
Letters and Science, which essentially evolved into the University of today.
In a harbinger of things to come, Sawyer, the chief fund-raiser
and a principal donor, was named president of the corporation, a title
that was later changed to chairman (now chair) of the board of trustees.