Friday, March 12, 2010

James Millikin - From Shepherd to Founder of a University

James Millikin was born in Ten Mile, Pennsylvania, in 1827.  His grandfather was a Presbyterian who arrived in America in 1771.  The family roots go back to Scotland with time spent in Northern Ireland before immigration. His mother was of Dutch origin, whose parents came to America in the seventeenth century.

As a farm boy, he helped drive herds of steers to New York City, going directly up Broadway.  The "west" called him and he made several sheep drives into Indiana and Illinois accompanied by his father.  In 1851, he made one more drive with a man named McFarland and stayed.

He continued to increase his flocks and herds until he finally was called "the cattle king of the Prairie State."  He also bought large tracts of land most of it public domain.  In 1856, he arrived in Decatur and on January 1, 1857,  he married Anna Bernice Aston.  She was the daughter of a Cumberland Presbyterian minister who was pastor at Mount Zion.

In 1860, he entered the banking business and gradually reduced his livestock holdings.  He helped start the Union Iron Works and served as its president.  He was also president of the Decatur Coal Company.  His bank became the largest bank in Illinois, outside of Chicago.

On a small hill, Mr and Mrs. Millikin, built a a house.  Construction began in 1875.  Some believe the architect was William LeBaron Jenny.  However, no evidence has been found to prove the true identity of the architect.  They were very private people and few every saw the inside of the house.  Faculty parties were always held outside and if it began to rain everyone went home.

The Millikin's did not have children, so they spent their time involving themselves in the community and traveling.  They lived in their house for 34 years.  I have had the opportunity to visit this house for a reception but it is not open to the public except for special events.

When Millikin was 20 years old, he made a vow that if he ever became wealthy, he would establish a school of higher learning where ever person could secure an education.  He made this vow as a college student while watching others struggle to meet their college expenses.

He offered the city of Decatur a large tract of land and $200,000 if the people of Decatur would raise an additional $100,000.  They did and on June 4, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the opening address for the new James Millikin University.  It was affiliated with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church on the condition that it would not become "narrowly sectarian."  On opening day 562 students enrolled.  Today, some 1,700 students are enrolled and enjoy a beautiful campus with many new buildings.

I spent two days on campus some time ago and was very impressed!

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