Laying the Cornerstone

By Monica VanDerWeide, ’95

As citizens and communities around the country gather to enjoy spirited celebrations of Independence Day, let’s look back on a very special Independence Day in the life of Hillsdale College.

Less than six months passed from the day Professor Ransom Dunn first set foot in the town of Hillsdale in search of a new location for Michigan Central College to the day that the cornerstone was laid for the first building on the new campus. On July 4, 1853, more than 6,000 people—four times the size of Hillsdale village—came by foot, horse, and wagon and gathered “up the hill” for the momentous occasion.

Hillsdale College President Edmund Fairfield gave an address titled “The College and the Republic” in which he noted the responsibility of educational institutions to the perpetuation of free government. His words ring as true today as they did more than 160 years ago:

“But Educational Institutions are not only invaluable in preparing for the enjoyment of rational liberty, but they are equally so in perpetuating it; they are the constant allies and the eternal bulwarks of all the institutions of Republicanism…. 

“This our Educational institutions—teaching as well the laws of social morality as of physical science—are omnipotent in forming.  And as we cherish the heritage of civil and religious liberty which has come down to us, so it becomes us to cherish the College, the Academy and the Common School, permeated by Christian influence, which alone have secured us this inheritance, prepared us for enjoying and appreciate it, or can prove its efficient conservators….

“The College is the friend of the Republic, and the Republic should be the friend of the College. Our Educational establishments ever have been the faithful allies and firm supporters of all that is ennobling in our free institutions, and every layer of the Republic should see to it that they are nurtured and guarded with a sleepless vigilance.

“Let it be deemed no sacrilege, therefore, that we are convened upon this day, sacred to liberty, to human rights, and to patriotism, to lay the cornerstone of this College edifice. I deem it an auspicious coincidence. May it prove a significant prophecy upon this anniversary of the day on which our fathers laid the foundations of the beautiful temple of our National Liberties, we come to lay the cornerstone of this spacious temple of Science. May the walls reared upon this foundation, stand for ages to come, sacred as well to freedom, humanity, philanthropy and true patriotism, as to sound science, pure morality, and true religion. The cornerstone will now be laid.”

That original cornerstone remains with this beautiful sentiment written upon a Bible placed inside of it: “May earth be better and Heaven be richer because of the life and labor of Hillsdale College.”

Monica VanDerWeide is Director of Marketing Content for Hillsdale College. She graduated from Hillsdale in 1995 with a degree in English and German.