Above: University of Delaware, Old College / Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Francis Alison planted the seed for what is today the University of Delaware in 1765, when he established the Newark Academy in the town of the same name.
The school was in fact a transplant from a free school he’d begun in New London, PA in 1743. Alison’s dream was to transform his academy into a full fledged college. But it wasn’t until 1833, half a century after Alison’s death, that the Newark Academy’s trustees secured a charter for Newark College. Alison’s academy would be folded into the new institution.
The new college was to have two departments–(1) Languages and (2) Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. Its goal was to educate 80 students annually.
The board of trustees selected a Winslow Lewis of Boston to build the new facility. Lewis’ claim to fame today is that over his career he built over 100 lighthouses, but the Newark trustees picked him based on architectural designs for which Harvard had commissioned him.
Lewis’ Greek Revival style choice for Newark College was strongly influenced by the United States Naval Asylum in Philadelphia, designed and built 1827-33 by Lewis’ contemporary William Strickland.
You might think the new college would celebrate with a ‘laying of the first brick’ ceremony of some sort, but in reality the circumstance lacked any pomp.
“Manlove Hayes, a Dover boy who later became a trustee of the college, but was then a student at the academy,” Delaware historian John A. Munroe tells us, “was playing with other boys around the open trenches prepared for the college foundation and asking questions of the man in charge of the masonry, when the latter handed him a brick and showed him how to place it in the corner of the trenches, telling him he could ever after remember that he laid the first brick.”
Winslow Lewis began construction on the 6 acre tract in late 1832, and had the building ready for occupancy by May 1834.
The ancient aim of Francis Alison to develop a college from his Newark Academy was at last realized.