Exploring mistakes in primary sources

Back in 2015, I asked one of the archives’ student assistants to research and write a blog post about the gate at the West entrance to IWU’s Quad that is known as the Founder’s Gate. The South pillar of the gate contains an excerpt from the Education Report, Journal and records of the … session of the Illinois Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1854, p. 19. The report was submitted by the Chairman of the committee that year W. D. R. Trotter and J. L. Crane, Secretary. (A complete copy of the report I obtained from the Methodist Conference Archives is available on request.)

Architectural features are considered primary sources, but like any other source we can’t take the informaton they hold at face value. The gate that stands at IWU’s West entrance offers valuable lessons that illustrate how trustworthy (or not) primary sources are.

Mis-quoting & implied attribution: As the earlier blog post notes, the quote on the South column of the gate is an abbreviation of the quote in the actual Conference Record. Here is a copy of the complete quote:

Complete quote

This is the text as it appears in the Education Committee Report in the 1854 Conference Record {click to enlarge]

By revising the first clause to read “We stand in a position…” rather than “The Methodist Church, in the west and south-west, stands…” and positioning it next to a column with a dedication to the Founders, the implication is that IWU’s Founders made this the statement as part of their reason for creating the University. Any evidence that they did so at all, let alone in 1850, has yet to surface. However, the chairman of the 1854 Education Committee, W.D.R. Trotter, was one of our Founders, so it might be attributed to him but he is not listed on the North column!

Mistaken transcription: The dedication plaque on the North column of the gate reads “In Memory of the Founders of Illinois Wesleyan University, 1850.”

It then lists the following names that, by implication, were all of the Founders: “James Allin, J.E. McClun, Linus Graves, Thomas P. Rogers, H.H. Fell, Ezekiel Thomas, W. H. Allin, Isaac Funk, John Moon, Jesse W. Fell, C.D. James, Silas Waters, C.P. Merriman, David Trimmer, John Magoun, James Miller, John W. Ewing, Jesse Birch, A. Goddard, W.C. Hobbs, David Davis, Peter Cartwright, John S. Barger, Henry Coleman.”

However there are some spelling errors in this list and some other names are missing. The author of a book published for IWU’s 100th anniversary, Elmo Scott Watson, provides a list of all the names and notes that some of the misspellings may have come from an inaccurate transcription in the 1895 history of IWU by William H. Wilder.

The reader can see the names and signatures in the 1850 document known as IWU’s “Birth Certificate” (aka, the Certificate of Incorporation). The 30 listed are:
“James C. Finley, James Miller, James Allin, John E. McClun, John Magoun, William C. Hobbs, Thomas Magee, Charles P. Merriman, Ezekiel Thomas, Thomas P. Rogers, Linus Graves, Peter Cartwright, James F. Jaquess, William J. Rutledge, Calvin W. Lewis, James Leaton, John Van Cleve, Silas Watters, Isaac Funk, David Trimmer, John S. Barger, C. M. Holliday, W. D. R. Trotter, W. H. Allin, William Wallace, W. H. Holmes, J. W. Ewing, Lewis Bunn, Kersey H. Fell, Reuben Andrus.”

Mistaken citation: Both columns contain attributions for the information on them:

  1. On the North we can see “Erected 1922 with Funds donated by the Bloomington Association of Commerce, Arthur L. Pillsbury, Architect”
  2. The day at the bottom of the South column is quite worn but an Argus article from February 13th, 1940 claims that it is “December 18th, 1850.” [n.b., The date on the “Birth Certificate” is December 3, 1850.]

The date on the South column, especially when juxtaposed with the dedication to the Founders on the North column, could lead people to believe that the statement was made by IWU’s Founders in 1850. By checking the original sources, we established that the quote was incomplete and was actually published after a meeting of the Central Illinois Methodist Conference four years later.

It is also important to consider why the Bloomington Association of Commerce erected this Gate in 1922.* That was the year that IWU declined an offer by business interests in Springfield to relocate the University. (see descriptions of this plan on p. 104 the Myers/Teichman book on IWU history and pp. 152-54 of Watson’s.)

In their desire to honor IWU’s Founders, and perhaps as a sign of their belief in the importance of IWU’s presence in the community, the Bloomington Association of Commerce used an excerpt from this powerful sentiment in what IWU leaders often cite as an inspirational call to service (one example is in President Wilson’s February 8, 2006 remarks at Founders’ Day).

President Minor Myers, jr. relates the story of how he went to the Gate to copy the inscription, describes its presumed origins, and notes its addition to the new Ames Library’s Rotunda at the 2003 Founders’ Day Convocation.

Since it is an excerpt, it is appropriate to attribute any use of the abbreviated quote to the Gate and not the Conference Record.

Founder's Gate 1922

The quote from the Gate is also available in The Ames Library’s Jown Wesley Powell Rotunda, where it serves as a reminder to all in the IWU community of their purpose.

*For more on the topic of examining the purpose behind monuments, I often recommend the book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Got Wrong (1999) by James W. Loewen.

The earth in front of The Ames Library

A view of the brick-laying equipment in front of the library taken from the northwest corner in 2001.


The same view in June 2022.

It’s been 21 years since the steps to the Ames Library first rose up from the ground level. It sure isn’t pretty right now but safety for our community is the goal! Crews are working to resolve the buckling issues that developed on the plaza and at the head of the stairs.

It took a truly monumental effort to lay all the brick and stone for this building! Danny Sylvester, the mason who was the foreman for J.J. Braker & Sons (Morton, IL) in the spring of 2001 donated a collection of 25 panoramic prints he took during the project.

A view of the north facade, before the build-up of steps from ground level.

Two kinds of scaffolding are visible in the photo below: the yellow is “Morgan scaffolding” and was used for working inside the cupula. Sylvester said these were operated with hydraulics and purchased specifically for this project. Tube scaffolding is visible on the outer circumference. Sylvester described this as his “most intriguing project” since it is unusual to make round building features with stone and brick.

Scaffolding being prepared for laying brick of the cupula.

Follow this link for more birds-eye views like this one in the days when Sheean Library still stood to our north and there were no windmills on the horizon!

Memorial Gym/Hansen Student Center Time Capsule Revealed!

(click to enlarge all images)

In a previous post I shared images and information on the time capsule that was recovered from the Memorial Gym. This photo shows an exhibit I installed on the main court of Hansen after the opening last night. The exhibit celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Gym and 20 years of its transformation into Hansen.

When the campus photographers’  images and video of the opening are available I will link them here. For now, here is a close up view of the side that shows just the time capsule contents.

The first item removed from the box was a Bible and the second was a packet of paper that turned out to be several sheets of paper that contains different facts about IWU and names of people involved in different parts of campus. The first sheet, though was this description of what was placed in the time capsule.*

Prior to the opening, I invited people to submit guesses about what we would find and two people guessed right!

  • First year student Liam Killian’s submission included newspapers and dust, dirt or rust. I am happy to say there was no moisture so no rust! All the dirt and dust was on the outside, but there were LOTS of newspapers.
  • University Librarian Stephanie Davis-Kahl’s submission included newspapers and photos. The one photo in the box was an 8×10″ of the 1921 football team. Unfortunately it had to be folded into quarters to fit in the box. It is cracked at those folds but the image is sharp!

It is amazing how much was in the small box. As the students kept removing more and more booklets, pamphlets and paper, the image of a circus car with endless clowns exiting popped into my head! When I remove the exhibit on October 11 I will do a more thorough assessment but these few photos can act as a teaser.

*The list of contents is as follows:
Copy of Bloomington Bulletin, November 4, 1921.
Copy of Bloomington Pantagraph, November 5, 1921.
Copy The Christian Advocate, October 27, 1921.
Copy Northwestern Christian Advocate, November 2, 1921.
Copy Epworth Herald, November 5, 1921.
Copy Wesleyan Argus.
Copy Articles of Incorporation of the Wesleyan.
Copy Catalogue Illinois Wesleyan University, 1921.
Copy Alumni Roll Illinois Wesleyan University.
Copy Spaulding’s Football Rules, 1921.
List of Faculty and students, current year.
List of student organizations.
Copy of Discipline Methodist Episcopal church, 1920.
Copy Year Book Methodist Episcopal Church, 1921.
Copy Minutes Illinois Annual Conference Methodist Episcopal Church, 1921.
Photograph of Football Team, 1921.
Copy of Holy Bible.

100 year old time capsule

dedication day

(click to enlarge) The man in the light colored jacket who is facing the camera is famed local architect Arthur Pillsbury

This photo shows a large crowd gathered on November 5, 1921 to place the cornerstone in the Memorial Gymnasium. Look to the left of the man standing below the tip of the flag and you will see a small box resting on top of the stone. That time capsule will be opened Sept 30, 7PM on Kemp Commencement Plaza.*

Anyone who came to IWU after 2002 would know the building as the Hansen Student Center. The building was originally dedicated to the memory of IWU personnel who died in World War I, hence the name Memorial Gym.

This post is dedicated to honoring the efforts it took to locate that small box in a stone that’s 48″ wide x 25″ high and 17″ thick. The thickness of the cornerstone was unknown up until this week! There is a program for the event with a line that says E. Mark Evans would be “placing box in cornerstone” (pictured below).

dedication stone

The photo of the crowd (at top of this blog post) and another one from the same vantage point but without people are the only visual clues about the time capsule and stone in the University’s archives.

view with no crowd

Director of Physical Plant Jim Blumberg assigned the work of pinpointing the time capsule’s location to John Zmia, a mason with Western Specialty Contractor. After testing the thickness by removing bricks at the top of the stone on the outside of the building, Zmia determined that extensive brick removal would be needed. In consultation with our Physical Plant personnel, they concluded that the best approach was to work from the back of the stone.Memorial Gym time capsule removal

Blumberg said the effort to find the box’s location in the stone took about 12 hours over two days and then 3 hours of chiseling the cornerstone to get to it. Blumberg took this video of Zmia removing the time capsule from the stone on August 31, 2021.opening the box

This is the third time capsule we’ve recovered since 2011** and it is our tradition to pre-open the box for safety reasons and then hold a public event to remove the contents. This time the work of opening fell to Manager of Maintenance Kenton Frost (on the left) and Supervisor of Building Trades Matt Gentes.

Because the building is now a student-centered space, Student Senate is conducting the opening event. Stay tuned for an event announcement!

*Student Senate is hosting the event and we are hoping Tom Hansen will be on hand since the Gym-to-Hansen renovation is 20 years old. The event will be livestreamed as part of virtual Homecoming activities, so be sure to sign up!

**The other two were removed from Sheean Library and the Mark Evans Observatory, which was named for the person who placed the time capsule in the Memorial Gym!

Commencement history

Today’s Commencement marks a new milestone in IWU history. Due to the pandemic, Titans are gathering online across the globe to celebrate. This is definitely a first! This post traces the other ways in which IWU Commencement has changed over the years.


ca 1950-60 in front of Duration Hall in the center of the Quad (click to enlarge)

Although Commencement is sometimes held inside due to inclement weather, IWU has a tradition of holding the ceremony outdoors going back to the early 1900s. The second building IWU built served as backdrop and it was positioned on the northern end of what we now know as the Quad. It was first known as Main and Old Main (1870), the Hedding Hall (1936) and finally Duration Hall (1943).


Commencement 1970

Sometime between 1960-1970 the location changed to McPherson Beach, on the north side of the School of Theatre Arts.

In 1990, the location for Commencement changed from McPherson Beach to its present location.

ca. 2002 In our current Quad location but note the arches of Sheean Library in the foreground


The backdrop for Commencement from 1990-2011 was Sheean Library until it was razed in 2011 and replaced with State farm Hall, which was built on Sheean’s footprint. This location was named Kemp Plaza in 2013, the same year that State Farm Hall opened.

Commencement 2019

State Farm Hall, 2019







Here’s a selection of Commencement photos from days gone by. We have also made it possible for programs and some recordings from 70 Commencements of IWU’s 170 year history to be available online.

Below are some fun facts about IWU customs and graduation requirements. In looking at how they have changed over the years, just imagine what will happen in future Titan times!

Did you know that

  • Commencement festivities used to last for a week? They involved performances, Baccalaureate sermons, Class Day celebrations (for Juniors AND Seniors), alumni reunions, and dinner at the President’s house.
  • students used to be required to deliver a speech, without notes, as part of the ceremonies? The text had to be 1000 words long and a faculty member had to hear it in advance!
  • classes sometimes issued their own elaborate invitations, created Class mottos and chose Class colors?
  • alumni from the 1930s-1966 had to pass a swimming test?

Named places: Munsell Hall

Munsell Hall is named for two brothers: Charles W. C. Munsell and Oliver Spencer Munsell. Both are credited with seeing IWU through its first financial crisis in 1857, growing student enrollment, and securing funds for the second campus building (1870). Charles served as IWU’s financial agent, in charge of raising funds for the struggling school, and Oliver served as second president of the University. President Munsell’s tenure also saw positive Board of Trustee action on admitting African American students (1867) and female students (1870). He resigned in 1873 due to questions raised about inappropriate contact with student. No criminal charges were brought but the incident was investigated by both the Methodist Conference and the Board of Trustees. Minutes of the latter are available in the University Archives.

Charles W. C. Munsell

Oliver Spencer Munsell

Named places: Buck Memorial Library

Buck Memorial Library is named for Rev. Dr. Hiram and Martha A. Buck. The Bucks became benefactors of the University starting in the 1890s with a donation of farmland. Hiram served as a trustee and Martha became IWU’s first female trustee on his death. On Mrs. Buck’s death a gift to the University included a request that funds be designated for a library and World Culture Center


Rev. Dr. Hiram Buck


Martha Buck







Buck was IWU’s first free-standing library and served our community in that capacity from 1923-1968. It continues to fill Martha Buck’s wishes as home to IWU’s World Languages, Literatures and Culture department.

More information on the Bucks is available in IWU’s Historical Sketch and Alumni Record (1895) pp. 50-53 available online at https://bit.ly/2QX8865

Named places: Harriet House

Harriet Rust

Harriett House completes the Dodds/Dolan/Magill housing quadrangle. It opened in the Fall of 1997 and was the first new residence hall built on the IWU campus since 1970. At first only known as “New House,” the hall was renamed on May 10, 1999 to honor Harriett Fuller Rust, an Illinois Wesleyan trustee and president of the Illinois Wesleyan President’s Club from 1983 until her death in July 1997.

Mrs. Rust was actively involved in the campus and local community. At the time of the hall’s naming, then-president of the Board of Trustees Craig Hart said, “Her enthusiasm and energy has helped IWU in so many ways, but especially her strong commitment to our students makes this tribute especially appropriate.”

A video that pays tribute to Rust as a Bloomington-Normal “Woman of Distinction” is available at https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/memorials/7.

Named places: Hansen Student Center

Hansen ribbon cutting

The Hansen family is shown in the center at the ribbon cutting at the dedication on January 12, 2002

Hansen Student Center is named in honor of lead donor Tom Hansen, Class of 1982. His gift made it possible to remodel the Memorial Gymnasium, the first athletic facility on IWU’s campus, which was built in 1922. The building was dedicated to IWU students who died in World War One and their names can still be seen at the entry to the main court, across from the Information Desk. The basement, now Tommy’s, once contained IWU’s first swimming pool. A dedication ceremony for Hansen took place on January 12, 2002.

The campus announced Hansen’s gift in an October 28, 1999 press release and the IWU Magazine ran a post-renovation feature story titled A Place to Call Their Own in the Summer 2002 issue.

Photo selections from the Memorial Gym’s early days are available online; more of these and of Hansen are held in the University’s archives online.

Examining a scale model of the Memorial Gym/Hansen renovation

Student Senate President Harold Gauthier, Class of 2000 sharing renovation plans with other students. October 25, 1999

Named places: Wilson Atrium

President and Mrs. Wilson

President and Mrs. Wilson, November 16, 2010

The Wilson Atrium in the Center for Natural Science Learning and Research (CNS) is named in honor of IWU’s 18th President Richard F. Wilson (2004-2015 and interim in summer 2019) and his wife, Patricia L. Wilson. Wilson gave special attention to developing a strategic plan for Illinois Wesleyan, strengthening the University’s financial position, and conducting the largest fund-raising campaign in the school’s history. Along with financing The Wilson Atrium seal, plaques and lettering, members of the Board of Trustees furnished the atrium with new chairs and couches to make the space more comfortable and functional in honor of Richard and Patricia Wilson.

Wilson Atrium seal unveiling

Unveiling the seal at the Wilson Atrium dedication, May 7, 2018.