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Notes from the past create link to College’s early years

Thanks to the College’s well-publicized Sesquicentennial celebration, most, if not all of us, are aware that the school was founded 150 years ago in 1855. Yet despite this knowledge, it can be difficult for a student in 2005 to imagine what the College was like so many years ago and to accept, in fact, that it actually existed.

What did students at the Trenton Normal School do to keep in contact without cell phones and AIM? What types of classes did they take?

Some of these questions can now be answered, thanks to a collection of artifacts recently donated to the office of Development and Alumni Affairs. It all started with a phone call.

This past summer, Stephen Hopper, a resident of New Jersey who was getting ready to move to Florida, stumbled across a group of items in his attic which he thought would be of interest to the College.

After contacting Lisa McCarthy, the acting director of Alumni Affairs, he sent her what he had found, along with a letter explaining his family’s longstanding connection to the College.

McCarthy was delighted by what she ended up receiving: an autograph book that belonged to Hopper’s great-uncle, who graduated from the Trenton Normal School in 1880; and another autograph book and lecture notes that belonged to Hopper’s grandfather, a member of the class of 1885.

The entire collection is in near-perfect condition. Each autograph book contains signatures from classmates including their hometowns and quotations by which they wished to be remembered.

One notebook contains Elocution (speech) notes, while the other, used for an Herberium class, contains perfectly preserved samples of pressed plants and flowers found on Trenton Normal School’s campus.

“It’s just amazing that all of these things have been so perfectly preserved,” McCarthy said.

According to his letter, Hopper’s grandfather, Samuel A. Robertson, found great success after graduating from the Trenton Normal School in 1885. He went on to become the principal of the No. 7 School in Bayonne, which was eventually named after him in the late 1930s. He was also the founding president of Bayonne Savings and Loan in the 1920s. The bank was in operation until 2003, when it merged with a larger bank.

Hopper’s great-uncle, Horace Robertson, practiced law through the 1940s.

“These brothers came from a small farm in Baptistown, N.J. where my great-grandfather grew mustard for a cash crop,” Hopper wrote. “Trenton Normal School must have provided them with quite an education!”

For the time being, these articles will remain in the possession of the office of Development and Alumni Affairs. Eventually, they will be transferred to the archive section of the New Library where they will be available for student viewing.

McCarthy’s office has stumbled across a number of other exciting artifacts in recent months, including slides and reels of video which depict the dedication of Crowell Hall and the cornerstone laying of Kendall Hall.

“We are thinking of exhibiting these artifacts to the public at some point, but they must first be copied to video or DVD,” McCarthy said. “We are trying to figure out how to go about doing that.”

McCarthy is most excited about film that her office has recovered depicting the celebration of the College’s 1956 Centennial celebration.

“What a great gift for this year’s reunion class to receive,” she said.

If students, staff or faculty members come across any items of historical significance that pertain to the College, they should not hesitate to donate them to the office of Development and Alumni Affairs.

“We’d love to see anything that shows the history of the school or is generally going to be of interest,” McCarthy said. “We’ll take anything because we never know what we will find or what we can get out of it.”


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