Sunday, July 4, 2010

4 July 1860: Cornerstone Laid at Rock College

On this day in 1860, Mount Vernon Lodge No. 22 laid the cornerstone for the building that would become Rock College, later known as University High School, even later known as Gilmer Hall.

The stone was inscribed with the following
This spot was selected by the prudential committee and W. L. Mitchell, T. R. R. Cobb and H. H. Hull, Jr., esquire, who were appointed building committee of the board of trusees of the University of Georgia. The corner stone [sic] was laid by the Mt. Vernon Lodge, No. 22, on July 4th, 1860.
Known as "Rock College" because it was built from rocks from the site of the building and cement, with no reinforcement, the building first acted as University High School, a University of Georgia preparatory school with the mission of "domesticating (the students) under such kind and watchful provisions as shall aim at securing good health and pure morals, it proposes to give them an accurate and complete training for the curriculum of University Life."

University High School was dedicated in April, 1862. Enrollment during the Civil War was primarily from Georgia and South Carolina. There were two 21-week terms per year, with 5-week vacations around Christmas and mid-summer.

The cost for a boarding student was $150 per term; it cost only $35 per term for day students; 103 students enrolled the first year. Demand was high enough that new applicants had to be turned away by November, 1862. In January, 1863, boarding student tuition and fees rose to $175 per term, yet the school still suffered food and staff shortages due to the war.

By 1864, tuition was $800 per term in Confederate dollars, or $100 per term in specie. That year, the Georgia legislature reorganized the state militia to ensure Georgia had a home defense present during the war, as a response to the Confederate legislature's revision of the Conscription Act that "severely limited the number of draft exempt categories and expanded the military age limits" to include all white males between the ages of 17 and 50. Among those Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown exempted from all military service except home defense were the students attending University High School.

After the war, the building acted as a subsidized school for disabled Confederate veterans who were under 30 years of age and wanted to attend school. Again, applicants exceeded space available. Subsidies ended in 1868, when University High School was reinstated for another four years before temporarily acting as the site of the newly created State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in 1872.

The building and campus became the State Normal School, a teacher's college, in 1891. As the summer-only sessions were funded entirely from the George R. Gilmer Fund, Rock College was rechristened Gilmer Hall. The Navy Supply Corps School took over the campus in 1954, and tore down Gilmer Hall in 1960.

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