This fall’s dedication of the Student Center was more than an official opening of a new building. It heralded the arrival of yet another significant milestone in realizing a nine-decade-long dream to move the Clarkson campus to the hill.
The plan as outlined in 1921 in a proposal by Frederick C. Wilson, civil engineering professor and later dean of engineering), to the PotsdamMen’s Association called for:
sufficient funds to buy the Clarkson family estate across the river; to transform it into a campus which would stand without equal; to erect new college buildings; and to enlarge the college sufficiently to accommodate a thousand students. A Clarkson on the hill has been the dream of every student that ever attended Tech.
A dream deferred
A fundraising campaign began in earnest in 1922 and five years later Miss Annie Clarkson, niece and heir to the Clarkson sisters and college founders, gave the Clarkson family property to the college. That year, the Clarkson Trustees authorized a sign to be placed on the northeast corner of the hill estate that read, “Future Home of Clarkson Memorial College.”
Two years later it appeared that Clarkson’s “Future Home” would be a reality when Annie Clarkson died (in 1929) and made Clarkson the major inheritor of her estate. Architects were drawing up the plans for the first buildings when the aftershocks of the Stock Market collapse adversely affected the value of Miss Annie’s generous gift and the project had to be postponed.
A dream revived
In the 1950s, the nation — and Clarkson — were enjoying the fruits of good economic times once again and University administration decided the time was right to revive the hill plan.
The Alumni Memorial Gymnasium was constructed on the hill in 1955 and the following year was formally dedicated to the Clarkson men killed during World War II. This marked the beginning of a wave of new construction on the hill. A year later the first part of the hill four-dorm quad was completed, and later named for Trustee Blythe Reynolds and longtime Potsdam lawyer and
Trustee Frank Cubley.
In 1964, the Board of Trustees approved a proposal known as “Operation 71,” which would double the size of Clarkson by 1971 with a significant increase in enrollment and faculty. An ambitious construction project continued for the next several decades on the hill campus.
By 2000, the new Bertrand H. Snell Hall, which houses the School of Business and the School of Arts & Sciences, was opened to students. This completed the planned move of undergraduate academic programs from the downtown campus to the hill campus.
Clarkson’s Village Campus
Today, Clarkson maintains a vital downtown presence. Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC are housed on Elm Street. The Physical Therapy program remains downtown in Clarkson Hall (now known as the Center for Health Sciences), while the Liberal Studies building (originally built as a gymnasium in 1911) will house the new master’s degree program in Physician Assistant Studies.
While Old Main comprised the entire Clarkson campus when it opened in 1896, it is now being revitalized as a research and development facility. Other downtown buildings, such as Peyton Hall and Lewis House will be used as incubators for business development. Downtown Snell is currently utilized by a mix of Clarkson and non-Clarkson occupants, including The Clarkson Theatre Club, which uses the auditorium and stage facilities.
Plans include an area for Greek housing and development of the waterfront property so future generations of Clarkson students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as the community, can enjoy additional leisure and recreational spaces.