The University Quarterly (1862) reported that “In the year 1852, an attempt was made to establish at Charlotteville, Schoharie Co., N.Y., an Institution to be called the ‘College for the People.’ The enterprise had progressed to some considerable extent, when it was thought necessary to change the location to a place more accessible and of more general eligibility. The proposition was therefore made to the citizens of Troy to remove the College to that city . . . There were those who believed that the establishment of such an Institution in their midst, ‘bringing half a dozen second or third rate Professors, and three or fourscore verdant, unkempt youths, would result in little substantial good to the city.'”
Despite these doubts, the industrialists of Troy raised $500,000 to endow the university, and laid the cornerstone of a magnificent building in the Autumn of 1856, with the Troy University opening September 9th, 1858 with 60 students. “The Faculty numbered only four, but they were men of thorough scholarship, and amply answered the wants of the infant University.” It departed from the concept of a “cheaply organized” college of the people, but sought to establish a Christian but not sectarian institution. At first it would only embrace “the branches commonly taught in Europe under the name of the Faculty of Philosophy, or Arts; but it will be easy to add the remaining Faculties when the resources of the University will allow it.”
“The location is one of the most eligible that could be found in the Northern States. The immediate site of the University is on a height called Mt. Ida, over-looking the city, and commanding a prospect unrivalled for beauty and extent. On this spot it is proposed to erect three large buildings. The center structure, now completed is two hundred and sixty feet in length, and of the Byzantine style of architecture.”
It is this Byzantine structure we see in the distance in this photograph. The Troy University didn’t last long. It is reported that it was foreclosed upon in 1862, and St. Mary’s Church of Albany bought the property, which became St. Joseph’s Theological Seminary of the State of New York in 1864. The seminary closed sometime in the 1890s, and the University Building drifted through various uses. The Sisters of St. Joseph purchased the property in 1908, and established a chapel, classrooms, and dormitory rooms for novices, teachers and retirees. The University Building was purchased by the adjacent Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1958, and originally housed the School of Management, the public relations department and part of the Physics department. Those tenants used only the first two floors; the upper floors were closed off out of fear of structural instability, and the building was torn down in 1969. RPI’s Folsom Library currently sits on the site, so what now seems like a central part of campus was in fact adjacent property half a century ago. (RPI’s brief page on the University Building is here.)
Oh, the guy in the picture? That’s Edwin Emerson of the Amateur Photographic Exchange Club of Troy, and professor of English literature at Troy University. He made this picture (part of a stereograph) with a tannin negative on April 25, 1862, and printed it May 7, 1862. It is preserved at the Library of Congress.