Rollins’ Historical Markers

Founded in 1885, Rollins College is home to a number of historical markers commemorating its past. (Photo by Scott Cook)

A historical marker commemorates an event or person from the past at a specific geographic locale in a way that visitors can easily interact with. Over the past 131 years, as one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Florida, Rollins has put up multiple historical markers to recognize its rich cultural, historical, and architectural heritage in the American South.

A marker that honors the college benefactor is actually not located on campus, but on the Rollins family farm 1,400 miles away. Growing up in Lebanon, Maine, Alonzo W. Rollins (1832-1887) developed at a young age a strong faith in Christian education. He later became a successful merchant in Chicago, but by the early 1880s his failing health forced him to seek shelter in Florida during winter time. When the idea of a Christian institution of higher education was first proposed by the General Congregational Church Association of Florida, Rollins seized the opportunity to make a leadership gift of $50,000 to the cause, swaying the choice of the campus site to Winter Park over other possible locations in Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Mt. Dora, or Orange City. Alonzo Rollins has since been honored as a founder and leading benefactor of the College, and “His name is deservedly associated with all that Winter Park shall become and with the best interests of this Southern portion of our country.”[1]

Located in Lebanon of York County in Maine, this marker was erected by the Rollins family on August 18, 1935, to recognize Alonzo and his older brother George’s contributions to the founding and early development of the College.

Rollins Hall was built in 1929 with funds from Edward W. Rollins ’29H, a cousin of Alonzo Rollins, and featured a boulder from the farm of James Rollins, ancestor of the Rollins family, who settled at Newington, New Hampshire in 1644.

The founding of the College has been recognized by multiple historical markers in Central Florida. On January 29, 1885, the General Congregational Association of Florida held its annual meeting of thirteen churches in Orange City and approved a committee report that eventually led to the establishment of Rollins College in Winter Park. The study recommended that the General Congregational Association “take initiatory steps toward the founding of an institution for higher education in the state of Florida.”[2] Then on April 17, 1885, at a special meeting in the Congregational Church of Orange City, after the delegates from Winter Park made a convincing argument, the General Congregational Association of Florida unanimously declared Winter Park as the location of the new college. Decades later, both historic meetings have been commemorated by a marker sponsored by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

On January 29, 1935, on behalf of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Mrs. T. C. Maguire presented the Rollins College historical marker to Mayor Webb of Orange City, Florida.

Besides Orange City, Sanford was also closely linked to the founding of Rollins College. Located at the intersection of the St. John’s River Passenger and Freight Lines to Jacksonville, and the South Florida Railroad to Tampa, Sanford in the late nineteenth century was regarded as a leading town in Central Florida and the “gateway city to South Florida.”[3] On April 17, 1885, when the decision by the Florida Congregational Association was reached about the location of the proposed college, the Winter Park delegates hastened down the St. John’s River by boat from Orange City to Sanford in order to telegraph the good news to the waiting community. However, before taking the afternoon wagon ride home, an incorporating announcement was written and posted in Sanford. Signed by F. W. Lyman, E. P. Hooker, and three others, the call announced a meeting of the incorporators to be held in the Directors’ Room of the Lyman Bank in Sanford on the morning of April 28, 1885. It was at this meeting that the Constitution and Bylaws of Rollins College were adopted, and twenty-one trustees were elected.[4]  To celebrate the semi-centennial of the College, on April 28, 1935, a special gathering was held in Sanford, and a historical marker was presented by T. W. Lawton (1874-1959), a Rollins graduate, trustee, and Seminole County Superintendent of Education, and accepted by Sanford Mayor T. L. Dumas.[5]

Located by the shore of Lake Monroe on the southwest corner of Park and First Streets in Sanford, this marker was erected by the Sallie Harrison Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and other citizens of Sanford and Seminole County.

On April 28, 1954, a dedication ceremony was held for another plaque commemorating the founding of Rollins College in 1885. The plaque was placed in Florida State Bank in Sanford, Fla. Pictured from left to right: George Touhey (Master-of-Ceremonies), Alfred J. Hanna (Vice-President of Rollins College), R.T. Milwee (Seminole County Supt. of Public Instruction), C.H. McNulty (Chairman of the Board of Directors of Florida State Bank), Hugh F. McKean (President of Rollins College), Dr. Frederick L. Lewton (Student at Rollins before 1890, Archivist at Rollins), T.E. Tucker (President of Florida State Bank), Dr. Fred P. Ensminger (Rollins, 1897), Mrs. Thomas Harry (Daytona Beach, granddaughter of Rev. C.M. Bingham, one of the founders of Rollins College), Dr. J. Bernard Root (Pastor of the Congretional Church).

The key role played by the Congregational Church in the founding of Rollins College is also recognized by several historical markers. At the incorporation meeting in 1885, Frederick Lyman (1849-1931) was appointed president of Rollins Corporation and chairman of the Board of Trustees. As a founder and primary supporter of the Congregational Church of Winter Park, Lyman helped plan the construction of the first four buildings on campus. The Lyman Hall at Rollins and Lyman Avenue in Winter Park are named in his honor. Edward Hooker (1834-1904) was another strong leader in the Congregational community of Florida. As the pastor of the Winter Park church, he was named President of the Faculty and the charter trustee of the new college. In six months he was able to design a curriculum and recruit faculty and students, as the campus began to take shape by Lake Virginia. On November 4, 1885, Rollins College opened its doors to welcome its first class, and the first official event for all charter students was to assemble in the Congregational Church of Winter Park to hear addresses by President Hooker and Superintendent S. F. Gale of the General Congregational Association of Florida. Since then, November 4 has been celebrated as Founder’s Day at Rollins College.

This marker was erected at its current site by members of the Congregational Church of Winter Park, “in special recognition of the noteworthy services rendered by Dr. Hooker as the first minister of this church and as the first president of Rollins College.”

Located at the intersection of Chase and Fairbanks, this marker commemorates the first faculty meeting of Rollins College on November 2, 1885. Charter faculty members in attendance included Edward Hooker, Louise M. Abbott, Nathan Barrows, William W. Lloyd, and Annie W. Morton.

Erected in the lobby of the Knowles Memorial Chapel by the Board of Trustees of the College on January 1, 1940, this marker serves “as a visible and permanent recognition of the spiritual, intellectual and material indebtedness which Rollins College owes and gratefully acknowledges to its Congregational heritage.”

In 1925, Hamilton Holt (1872-1951) was appointed the eighth president of Rollins College. An accomplished journalist, social activist, and internationalist, Holt had no pedagogical training in higher education. However, based on his own frustrating experience at Yale and Columbia, he boldly abandoned the traditional lecture and recitation method at Rollins. Instead, Holt launched the Conference Plan that centered the College curriculum on individual learning experiences. Emphasizing one-on-one interaction between professor and student, “The characteristic feature of the plan is the free exchange of thought between pupil and teacher in personal conference during which the student is helped over difficulties, shown how to study, given an illustration of the scholarly attitude towards knowledge and so forth.”[6] Besides curricular reform, Holt founded the Animated Magazine, and brought many great personalities to Rollins, including Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and the American philosopher John Dewey. He also established the Spanish Mediterranean architectural style of the campus and fostered a great legacy of expansion and growth for the College. It was during the Holt era that Rollins achieved national prominence as one of the outstanding experimental colleges of the time. On November 3, 1935, “in recognition of the distinguished service rendered the city of Winter Park by Hamilton Holt, and to mark the tenth anniversary of his presidency of Rollins College,” Kentucky Avenue across campus was renamed Holt Avenue by the City Commission of Winter Park.

On April 17, 1935, this bronze tablet was erected at the corner of Interlachen Avenue and Morse Boulevard by the residents of Winter Park to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Rollins College. Pictured from left to right: Mayor Raymond C. Baker, George C. Cartwright, Alfred J. Hanna, Mrs. Philip T. Stillman, Jessie Rittenhouse Scollard, Sara C. Cullen (granddaughter of David Mizell), and a group of Boy Scouts of Winter Park.

Since its founding, Rollins College has been at the heart of learning, culture, and architectural beauty in Central Florida. The establishment of Rollins on Lake Virginia provided the perfect location for a truly picturesque campus to unfold. Over the years, the College’s planners have succeeded in combining the man-made beauty of campus buildings with the natural beauty of the lakeside setting. Since the Holt era the consistent use of Spanish Mediterranean architecture has infused a sense of harmony and unity into the essence of the campus.[7] The crowning achievement of Holt’s master plan was the Chapel-Theatre complex; both buildings are currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places. They are in many ways the heart of the Rollins community, as they represent Rollins’ long-standing tradition of a holistic education that incorporates artistic, intellectual, and spiritual pursuits.

Built in 1932, the Annie Russell Theatre was constructed with funds from Mrs. Edward Bok in honor of her actress friend Annie Russell (1864-1936). It was designed by Richard Kiehnel of Miami, who was also known as the chief architect responsible for the campus master plan envisioned by Holt. The Knowles Memorial Chapel was designed by world renowned architect Ralph A. Cram and modeled after the Cathedral of Toledo in Spain. It was a generous gift of Mrs. Warren in memory of her father, Frances B. Knowles (1823-1890). The original marble marker, which is still on display in the lobby of the Chapel, reads: “To the glory of God and in loving memory of Frances Bangs Knowles, founder, trustee and benefactor of Rollins College. His Christian character and public spirit ennobled the unfolding life of this community and left the world better for his having passed through it. This Sanctuary, a symbol of strength and beauty, is given in grateful remembrance by his daughter Frances Knowles Warren. A.D.1932.”

Designed by Kiehnel, Pugsley Hall also followed the Spanish Mediterranean architectural style that began to dominate all campus buildings. This beautiful marker recognizes Cornelius Amory Pugsley of Peekskill, New York, a banker, congressman and philanthropist, who made the lead donation to the construction of the student dormitory.

Arguably the most beautiful historical marker still existing on campus is the garden seat made of coquina with a bronze plaque of Francis Philip Fatio (1724-1811) and Lina L’Engle Barnett (1859-1934). Fatio was a pioneer and strong advocate for conservation in Florida; following in his footsteps, his great-great-granddaughter Lina Barnett dedicated her life to the conservation of forests in Florida. Designed by Leno Lazzari, the memorial marker was presented by Mrs. W. S. Manning, President of Colonial Dames in Florida, and accepted by President Hamilton Holt on December 14, 1935. Originally located next to the Annie Russell Theatre, it was moved closer to a student dormitory before being relocated at the back of the Mills Memorial Center. The artistic garden seat has since become a popular spot for generations of students to gather.

The caption of the bronze plaque reads: “Francis Philip Fatio (1724-1811), first advocate of conservation of Florida’s forests, and Lina L’Engle Barnett (1859-1934), a colonial dame who kept alive the doctrine of conservation in Florida and the ideals of her distinguished ancestor. Erected by the National Society, Colonial Dames of America in Florida, December 14, 1935.”

Veterans have been a part of campus life at Rollins in the 20th century. During World War II, the Army’s STAR (Specialized Training and Reassignment) Unit was stationed in Pinehurst Cottage, and many students and even some faculty members were dispatched to fight in both the European and the Pacific theaters. To honor the military services made by Rollins personnel, President Hamilton Holt erected a Roll of Honor marker in 1943. Then the U.S. Congress passed the G.I. Bill to provide educational assistance to service members and their dependents, which enabled many veterans to pursue college education after the war. In the 1945-1946 academic year alone, 122 of the 534 students enrolled at the College were ex-servicemen, making them almost 25 percent of the student population.[8] Although the Rollins Roll of Honor is no longer on our campus, a new Veterans Memorial was given to the College by Rollins veteran William F. Koch, Jr. ’49 and his wife, Mary Lou Sommer Koch ’48, in honor of all those Rollins alumni who made the ultimate sacrifice during their time in the armed services from World War I to the Vietnam War.

President Hamilton Holt at the Rollins College Roll of Honor, erected in 1943, listing the names of all Rollins men and women serving in the Armed Forces.

The Veterans Memorial was dedicated on March 24, 2000, during the Reunion Weekend. It was given to the College by Rollins veteran William F. Koch, Jr. ’49 and his wife, Mary Lou Sommer Koch ’48, and bears the inscription: “In grateful remembrance of Rollins alumni who gave their lives in service to their country.” 

As a small, independent liberal arts college, Rollins’ funds for campus construction have largely come from generous gifts from benefactors made through private donations, grant support, and capital campaigns such as the Victory Expansion Program after WWII. Orlando Hall is one such building, which was mainly supported by donations from citizens of Orlando. In a letter dated October 10, 1946, President Holt wrote: “Dear Orlando Friends: It gave us all a real thrill to learn that the people of Orlando were undertaking to provide for an ORLANDO HALL on the Rollins campus. Nothing could be more timely, appropriate, and heartening… We shall be proud and happy to have Orlando Hall added to our growing cluster of beautiful buildings and we want each one of you to know how grateful we are to you. We shall always do our utmost to deserve your continued confidence and friendship.”[9] Home to the English Department from beginning, the two-story building in Spanish Mediterranean style is connected by a loggia to Sullivan House and Woolson House, with multiple faculty offices and classrooms that contain the original conference tables.

Dedicated on April 6, 1949, this wood marker inside Orlando Hall recognizes all individuals from the local community who donated to the building’s construction.

Visitors walking through campus may notice two stone tablets on the loggia wall connecting multiple dorm buildings at Rollins: “Life Is for Service” and “Manners Maketh Man.” Those plaques were donated in 1936 by Robert J. Caldwell of New York, who received an honorary degree from Rollins a few years earlier. Both phrases are the mottoes of the Scarborough Country Day School, whose tablets are said to have been donated by Eleanor Roosevelt when the preparatory school’s Beechwood Theater was dedicated in 1917. Those inspirational markers have had profound impacts on generations of Rollins students, among them Fred Rogers ’51 ‘74H (1928-2003). After growing up in Latrobe, Pa., Rogers spent a year at Dartmouth before transferring to Rollins in 1948. A music composition major, Rogers found a quiet, peaceful place to hone his music and intellect at Rollins, and became inspired by the adage “Life is for Service,” when he saw the marble tablet on the wall of the loggia near Strong Hall. He wrote it down on a small piece of paper and carried it in his wallet throughout his life as a reminder.[10] He intended to become a minister after graduation; however, after seeing a television show during the Easter break of his senior year, he decided to also dedicate his life to educational programming for children. His first television show, The Children’s Corner in Pittsburgh eventually grew into Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the longest-running show in PBS history.

Mounted on the wall of the loggia near Strong Hall, for decades this marble tablet has inspired Fred Rogers and many other Rollins students in civic engagement and community services. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Among all building markers on campus, a unique stone tablet is located in the courtyard of the Cornell Social Science Building. Dedicated on November 4, 1988, the Cornell Hall for Social Sciences was funded by George Cornell ’35 ’85H (1910-2003), a long-serving member of the Rollins Board of Trustees (1981-2003), and his wife Harriet W. Cornell ’35HAL ’90H. In line with the Spanish Mediterranean style that defines the rest of campus, Cornell Hall features an open courtyard and the Schoolhouse Stone as its central piece, a slab of Hematite Silurian from the Central Valley School founded by Cornell’s grandparents in 1865. The marker reads: “This piece of Hematite Silurian stone was hewn from the Longwood Quarry near Central Valley, New York, on the farm originally owned by Samuel Cornell, the great-great-grandfather of George Davison Cornell. Two subsequent generations farmed there, and this stone has become an important part of the Cornell family tradition. For decades it served as a mounting block at the Central Valley School established two generations later by George’s grandparents, Susan and David Cornell. The stone was a favorite spot for students, and on nice days they gathered there for lessons and recreations… The original school operated from 1865 to about 1890. The stone was moved to make way for cement sidewalks in the 1920s, and the Cornell family preserved it. This piece was shipped from New York to Florida to provide gathering place for future generations of students engaged in learning in Cornell Hall.”

A more recent addition to the historical markers on campus is Rollins’ 9/11 Memorial, which  is believed to be the first and only memorial to feature authentic touchstones from all three sites—the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.[11] This marker was donated by Rollins alum Tony Wilner ’82, who in 2001 worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon, where he obtained a salvaged piece of the Pentagon limestone. He then worked to obtain a stone from the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93. Meanwhile Rollins alum Manny Papir ’89, who served as Mayor Giuliani’s Deputy Chief of Staff during the 9/11 attacks, donated a piece of stone from the wreckage of the World Trade Center for the College’s Walk of Fame, which was originally dedicated by President Rita Bornstein along with the mayor, police and fire chiefs of Winter Park on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attack on America. Papir eventually agreed with Wilner’s vision of a memorial incorporating all three sites, and the new marker was dedicated in 2008 next to the Veterans Memorial.

An engraved quotation from President George W. Bush reads: “We will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.” (Photo by Scott Cook)

Building on a tradition of excellence, innovation, and community, Rollins College holds a distinctive place in American higher education. Historical markers help us preserve the rich cultural legacy of the College. Glancing through signs and plaques designating the significant places, personages, and events associated with Rollins, visitors and interested citizens can develop a more concrete understanding of the College’s history. Students and faculty can also gain a great sense of pride in our longstanding liberal arts heritage. By looking back at the path traveled by our forebears, we can look forward to the future of the College. This spirit is perhaps best reflected in a statement from the January 28, 1885, committee report authored by Edward P. Hooker, first president of Rollins College: “The outlook is grand and glorious… We rejoice in the privilege of laying the foundations for the future.”[12]

Students interact with historical markers on campus.

by Wenxian Zhang, Head of Archives and Special Collections

A version of this article was published in the Spring 2017 issue of The Independent.

[1] The Winter Park Company, Alonzo W. Rollins (1832-1887), 3. Box 10B, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[2] Jack C. Lane, “Chapter 1: The Founding, 1885” Rollins College: A Centennial History (Winter Park, Florida: Rollins College, 2016), http://scholarship.rollins.edu/mnscpts/11.

[3] Wenxian Zhang, “Sanford’s Historical Connections with Winter Park and Rollins College,” Sanford Historical Society Newsletter 14:6 (November-December 2007), 1-4.

[4] “Minutes of the Board of Trustees, Rollins College, April 28, 1885,” Box 10B, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[5] “1885-1935 Semi-centennial Program of Rollins College, 28 April, 1935,” Box 25D, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[6] “Two-Hour Conference Plan: How the Lecture and Recitation System Has Been Abolished at Rollins College,” Rollins College, January 1927, http://archives.rollins.edu/cdm/ref/collection/holt/id/343.

[7] A Walker’s Guide to Rollins College, edited by Catharine Rogers, Rollins College, n.d.

[8] D. M. Moore, “Words from Rollins Veterans, 1945,” Rollins College Archives, November 17, 2014, http://social.rollins.edu/wpsites/libraryarchives/2014/11/17/words-from-rollins-veterans-1945/.

[9] Orlando Hall, Box 05C, Building & Grounds, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[10] Bobby Davis, “Farewell to Our Favorite Neighbor: In Honor of Fred Rogers ’51, March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003,” Rollins Alumni Record (Summer 2003), 20-23.

[11] Meredith V. Wellmeier, “Rollins Remembers 9/11: On the 14th anniversary, Rollins College Observed a Moment of Silence during the College’s 9/11 Memorial Service,” Rollins360, September 11, 2015, http://360.rollins.edu/college-news/rollins-remembers-9-111.

[12] Jack C. Lane, “Chapter 1: The Founding, 1885” Rollins College: A Centennial History (Winter Park, Florida: Rollins College, 2016), http://scholarship.rollins.edu/mnscpts/11.

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