The Lycoming College of 1812 would have been unrecognizable to students today: the school, known then as Williamsport Academy and located in an octagonal building on West Third Street, functioned as a middle/high school for boys ages 12 to 16, according to Dr. John Piper, a former dean of the college and historian whose book on the history of the college soon will be released.
The college will host a Bicentennial Charter Day Celebration beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday, and the evening will include an appearance from Piper posing as the Rev. Ben Crever, a founder of Dickinson Seminary, an earlier incarnation of the college. Festivities beginning at 7 p.m. will include a cake and ice cream social and a fireworks display.
Piper, who served as dean for 15 years until his retirement in 2007, has been playing the part of Crever for 10 years. While Crever played an integral part in the college's evolution, Piper said the school went through many changes before Crever took over in 1848.
Academies began cropping up around Pennsylvania in the early 1800s, Piper said, in order to offer an education that went beyond the 'common schools' or elementary schools that taught children to read, write and count before sending them off to work. By 1850, the state boasted more than 500 academies.
"Pennsylvania was chartering academies as what we today would consider middle and high schools," he said. "The academies came along offering the next level of education. In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, they added things like history, literature and languages."
Williamsport Academy moved from West Third Street to the current Lycoming College campus and opened its new building in 1841.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Lycoming College Bicentennial Charter Day Celebration
WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: The Quad, on campus, or inside the recreation center in case of inclement weather
"It was a two-story building with a cupola on top, and a tower above the cupola ... very much like the towers on campus now," Piper said. "That became the Williamsport Academy until 1845, when it went bankrupt and the sheriff sold it."
The town council (today's city council) purchased the school but only owned it for two years before putting it up for sale again in 1847. Then the academy took a very different direction.
"A minister from Milton named Benjamin H. Crever walked from Milton, inspected the property ... talked to local Methodists at what became Pine Street Church, and in 1848 that small group bought (the college) and named it Dickinson Seminary. That's what has become Lycoming College," Piper said.
In the 1920s, the seminary was transformed into a junior college, and the school finally took on the name Lycoming College in the 1940s.
In addition to his time in the college's history department, Piper has spent 2 1/2 years researching the college's history for his book. He said he was impressed by the challenges the college has overcome.
"I think the most surprising thing is that it has not only survived, but become a first-class institution of higher education, nationally ranked ... despite many challenges along the way," he said.
The community will have a chance to celebrate the college's success at the Charter Day Celebration Dinner, to be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday on the Quad. The dinner is free for Lycoming College students.
More information on the Bicentennial Charter Day Celebration is available on the Lycoming College website, www.lycoming.edu.