Happy Birthday, FSU!

This blog post sources a timeline researched and compiled by Mary Kate Downing.

college hall
College Hall, the first building constructed for the Seminary West of the Suwannee River.

Happy birthday, Florida State! Can you believe that it’s only been 166 years since the Florida Legislature (then the General Assembly of the State of Florida) passed an act that led to our inception as an institution? We can’t either! …especially since only until fairly recently, it was widely accepted that FSU’s founding day was in 1857, and not 1851 as we now know. Why all the confusion? This isn’t a situation of FSU lying to get senior discount on movie tickets. Yes, FSU’s predecessor institution, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River, didn’t open its doors until 1857, but there was a lot more going on for 6 years before its grand opening.

On January 24, 1851, the General Assembly of the State of Florida passed an act establishing two seminaries of learning, one to the east and one to the west of the Suwannee River. It wasn’t until 1854 when the Tallahassee City Council offered to pay $10,000 to finance a new school building on land owned by the city in an attempt to “bid on” being the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee, which the legislature had yet to decide. The $10,000 consisted of the value of the property, the yet-to-be-constructed building, and the remaining balance in cash. Approximately $6,000 was originally committed, with the Council promising to give the city the remaining balance if Tallahassee was determined as the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee. Later in 1854, construction on a school building began and Tallahassee’s city superintendent approached the state legislature to present the case for the seminary to be in Tallahassee. However, state officials failed to make a decision regarding the location of the seminary before the end of the legislative session.

By 1855, the newly constructed College Hall (in the area that is now Westcott Building) opens. Because of the state legislature’s lack of a decision on whether it would be one of the legislature-designated seminaries, it was not given an official name. Instead, it was alternately called “The City Seminary” and “Tallahassee Male Seminary.”

In 1856, the ball got rolling as the City Council of Tallahassee (hereafter referred to as the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute) met and designated “The City Seminary” as the “Florida Institute.” It also indicated that “government of the institution or seminary shall be under the direction of a president” and decided that “a preparatory school will be established in connection with the academic or collegiate department of the institute.” It is established that one of the president’s duties will be to publish a “Catalogue Course of Studies” for the institution. Later in 1856, William (W.Y.) Peyton, previously principal of The City Seminary, is unanimously elected by the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute as first president of the Institute.

By late 1856, the General Assembly passed legislation declaring that “the Seminary to be located West of the Suwannee River be, and the same is hereby located at the City of Tallahassee in the County of Leon.” There were several conditions that must be granted for this to occur – “the proper and authorized conveyance of said Lot and College edifice thereon be made to the City of Tallahassee to the Board of Education,” that Tallahassee “guarantee to said Board of Education the payment of the sum of two thousand dollars per annum forever, to be expended in the education of the youth of said City, in such manner and on such terms as shall be agreed between the corporate authorities of said City and the Board of Education,” and that Tallahassee “shall pay to the Board of Education as much money in cash as shall be found necessary after a valuation of the Lot and College edifice aforesaid, to complete the sum of ten thousand dollars.”

With all of the requirements fulfilled, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River was allowed to open its doors and so began FSU’s long history.

To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.

About Hannah Wiatt Davis

Hannah Wiatt Davis is the Archives Assistant for the FSU Heritage Protocol & University Archives. She received her MLIS from FSU in August, 2014.

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