"A National Sin": Samuel Simon Schmucker, Founder of Gettysburg College, on the Peculiar Institution

By Meg Sutter ’16

Many music and art students at Gettysburg College would recognize the name Schmucker as their building, or affectionately their ‘home,’ on campus. Alumni might even remember Schmucker Hall as their library. However, if asked who founded Gettysburg College, most students and alumni would probably not know his name. Fortunately, our campus is celebrating Founders Day this week to remember those, including our founder Samuel Simon Schmucker, who helped make our college #Gettysburgreat.

Samuel Simon Schmucker was born in 1799 in Hagerstown, Maryland to German immigrants. His father, John George Schmucker, was a pastor in Hagerstown before moving to York where he continued his ministry. Samuel Simon Schmucker attended the York County Academy before going to the University of Pennsylvania and then the theological seminary at Princeton. In 1820 he was granted membership in the Lutheran Synod and, by the next year, was ordained as a minister by the Maryland and Virginia Synod. As part of the Synod he was elected to a committee in charge of planning a Lutheran theological seminary. Gettysburg was chosen as the location for the seminary, perhaps because there was a large population of German Lutherans in the Gettysburg area and in Adams County. Classes opened at the Lutheran Theological Seminary on September 5, 1826, but after a year, Dr. Schmucker came to the conclusion that many of his students were not prepared in the manner they should be to continue theological studies. He devised creating a preparatory school to solve the problem. On June 25, 1827, the Classical Preparatory School opened and shared the same building as the Seminary. Due to financial problems, Dr. Schmucker bought the property in 1829 and changed the name of the Classical School to the Gettysburg Gymnasium. As both schools grew, there became a need for the Gettysburg Gymnasium to once again reestablish itself. Dr. Schmucker drafted and proposed a bill to make the Gettysburg Gymnasium into a college “for the education of youth in the learned languages, the arts, sciences, and useful literature.” On November 7, 1832, Pennsylvania College was “opened for the reception of Students.”

Gettysburg Gymnasium
Gettysburg Gymnasium at Washington and Carlisle Streets, ca. 1882. Photograph courtesy of Gettysburg College Special Collections.

Continue reading “"A National Sin": Samuel Simon Schmucker, Founder of Gettysburg College, on the Peculiar Institution”

“We will close . . . you know nothing about the lesson anyhow”: Pennsylvania College during the War

By Meg Sutter ’16

Twenty-nine years had passed since the founding of Pennsylvania College by Samuel Simon Schmucker in 1832 when war broke out between the states. Due to the college’s location just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, the threat of battle near Gettysburg loomed until in July 1863 it became all too real.

Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North was not completely unexpected, and college life would be drastically impacted by the threat of oncoming Confederate forces. The winter term of 1860-1861 was just ending when war broke out in April of 1861. Many of the townspeople were not in support of slavery at the outbreak of the war, but they also had hoped to avoid a bloody conflict. The Quakers living in central Pennsylvania, specifically in what is called the Quaker Valley today only a few miles from Gettysburg, may have contributed to this sentiment. The majority of the townspeople of Gettysburg, who numbered fewer than the size of Gettysburg College’s current student population of 2600, were carriage makers, tanners, cobblers, and the usual merchants, bankers, and tavern keepers. Gettysburg’s leading industry was that of carriage making, and most of the owners sold to markets south of Gettysburg across the Mason-Dixon Line. The coming war would mean the loss of those consumers. Parents of Pennsylvania College students were also wary of sending their sons to school in a town threatened by invasion. Continue reading ““We will close . . . you know nothing about the lesson anyhow”: Pennsylvania College during the War”

The Calm Before the Storm: Pennsylvania College in the Antebellum Period

By Meg Sutter ’16

This post is part of a three-part series on student life at Pennsylvania College immediately before, during, and after the Civil War, exploring how the war impacted life on campus.

Before the War

When the Civil War made its presence known on campus, Pennsylvania College was merely a small Lutheran college, the oldest of its kind in the United States. Thirty-one years had passed since the institution’s founding by Samuel Simon Schmucker in 1832. Dr. Schmucker had advocated for a Classical School, the Gettysburg Academy, which eventually became the Gettysburg Gymnasium after the Gettysburg Theological Seminary was opened in 1826. The Academy/Gymnasium gave preliminary training in classical studies to young men before they advanced their studies in theology. The school prospered so much that Dr. Schmucker sought a charter, which established Pennsylvania College officially in 1832.

Pennsylvania Hall c. 1860s. Special Collections, Musselman Library, Gettysburg College.
Pennsylvania College c. 1860s.
Special Collections, Musselman Library, Gettysburg College.

In 1837 the college relocated from its building at High Street and South Washington—still in existence today—to the college edifice, built in 1837 and now known as Pennsylvania Hall. The edifice sat on six acres and one perch of land and made up the entire college campus until an additional three lots were bought from Thaddeus Stevens in 1849. The school was officially moved from the Gettysburg Academy building to Pennsylvania Hall in October of 1837, followed by the preparatory department for preparing young men for entrance into a college or theological school in 1848. President Krauth also moved and resided with the students in the college edifice until 1850. The building had a dining room, kitchen, study hall, libraries, chapel, society halls including Phrenakosmian and Philomathaean, and of course dormitories, about fifty, for the students. Fireplaces and wood stoves were used to heat all the rooms in the building. Thankfully the building never burned down, and coal stoves would replace these beginning around 1860. Continue reading “The Calm Before the Storm: Pennsylvania College in the Antebellum Period”