Happy 172nd Birthday, FSU!

Today marks 172 years since the Florida Legislature (then the General Assembly of the State of Florida) passed a bill establishing an institution of higher learning in Tallahassee in 1851. This institution would eventually become Florida State University.

It wasn’t until the year 2000 that 1851 was accepted as FSU’s founding year. Previously, FSU’s founding year was considered to be 1857, which is when the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River, FSU’s predecessor institution, first opened its doors. However, the process of establishing an institution in Tallahassee school began long before students were allowed to study here.

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 that 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 final location. 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 building, which was often described as “the handsomest edifice” in Tallahassee, was ready for students. 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.”

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 needed to 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.”

This photograph from 1901 is of West Florida Seminary’s main building, College Hall. The building was built in 1891 and destroyed in 1909 and Westcott now stands in its place.

With all of the requirements fulfilled, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River was allowed to open its doors the following year in 1857 and so began FSU’s long history.

This post was adapted from previous posts celebrating FSU’s birthday, which can be found here.

Published by Kacee Reguera

Heritage & University Archives Assistant Florida State University

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