THE FONTANELLE SCHOOL
"You ask for reminiscences in regard to the early history of Congregationalism in Nebraska. I am not one of the pioneers. There were Congregational churches in Nebraska ten years before I came. I attended the meeting of the State Association of Congregational Churches at Fontanelle in September, 1866. The ministers and delegates attending that meeting were in all thirteen. None of them are now living but myself. At that time I was elected stated clerk, and the minutes of the association were printed that year, I think for the first time . . . At the same meeting I was elected a trustee of the Nebraska University, the first school of high order which the Congregationalists of Nebraska undertook to sustain. At the meeting of the board of trustees I was elected secretary of the board and clerk of the executive committee. I kept the records of said institution while it lasted. Said records can be found among the archives of Doane College.
"From the minutes of the State Association and the records of the Nebraska University you will find the important facts for your history (of that period). But the difficulties, trials, and arduous labors attending the establishing and building up of the Redeemer's Kingdom in those early days can not be told in a brief history. This state is one of magnificant (sic) distances.
"C. G. BISBEE."
"About the beginning of 1871 Mr. Bisbee resigned, and Mr. J. J. Boulter was engaged to conduct the school. Under his supervision instruction continued until some time in 1872, when it was given up never to be resumed."16
Different causes brought about the downfall of the school: The first in point of time was doubtless the failure of Fon-
16 Education in Nebraska, p. 180.
THE FONTANELLE SCHOOL
tanelle to develop as a town, due to its failure to secure the railroad and, the county seat. In the beginning it tried also to secure the capital of the territory.
These disappointments resulted in the collapse of the town, which might have become a small college town had not a second factor entered into the problem of its existence--the removal of the capital from Omaha to Lincoln. This and the establishment of the state university at Lincoln caused the more rapid development of southern and southeastern Nebraska. Immigration went that way. Congregational churches were organized, and by 1871 there was a strong sentiment in favor of a new location for a Congregational college. Weeping Water with its comparatively strong church made a bid for it. Milford with its academy already in operation wanted it. Crete with its academy, with its pastor Rev. Fred Alley, backed by the strong influence of Mr. Thomas Doane, and the Burlington & Missouri river railroad was persistent in asking for the college. It also put in the plea of having a central location, and Nebraska is a large state. It began to look dark for Fontanelle.
At the Fremont meeting of the General Association, 1869, the report from Fontanelle was discouraging. One must read between the lines to catch the spirit of the meeting. The following resolution was adopted:
"Resolved, That a committee be appointed to have power to convey all the property, right, and title we possess in the Nebraska University to the citizens of Fontanelle, as per original contract, or to such other persons as the trustees may decide upon."17
In 1870 the association heard a report from Fontanelle but took no action.
In 1871 the association met in Lincoln. Something evidently had been done during the year. The Burlington & Missouri river railroad company gave the association a free excursion to Crete and return. While at Crete the association assisted in laying the cornerstone of the new academy building. College matters were generally discussed. The following significant resolution were adopted:
"I. Resolved, That we believe the time has come to take measures for the establishment of two or more academies.
"II. Resolved, That Fontanelle has strong claims upon the association for sympathy, and we commend the institution at that place to the confidence of our people.
"III. Resolved, That the people of Milford and Crete shall have the sympathy and good will of the association, to do all they can in establishing first-class academies at their respective points.
"IV. Resolved, That the thanks of the association are due to the people of Milford and Crete, and also to the Burlington & Missouri river railroad company for the very generous offers they have made us in the matter of locating a college; and that the association respectfully ask further time for considering the matter."18
At this same meeting Supt. O. W. Merrill introduced the following resolution which was also adopted:
"Resolved, That it is the sense of this association that we should concentrate our educational efforts on our academies and our one college for our order in the state."19
That emphatic "ONE" has a peculiar significance. The resolution is prophetic. Doane College has its "Merrill Hall."
THE FONTANELLE SCHOOL
Milford and Crete at this meeting of the association presented definite bids for the college. Rev. O. W. Merrill, Rev. Julius A. Reed, and George Lee were appointed a committee to supervise the general educational interests in the state until the next meeting of the association.
This committee in a voluminous report of marked literary flavor, the following year, 1872, recommended that Crete be chosen as the location of the new college. In the meantime Weeping Water presented a strong showing in favor of the location there, so that there were three competing points, Milford, Crete, Weeping Water. The report of the committee aroused a spirited discussion. It was shown in the report that in 1870 Nebraska had sent thirty-two pupils to Tabor College, Iowa--"enough at that one school to make a respectable beginning were they gathered into a school of our own." This, too, because Nebraska had no school for them!
"The conclusion to which we come is that we have already waited too long, and that we can not move too soon or too vigorously."
Some wanted to postpone action till the next October. This was voted down, and the recommendation of the committee that the college be located at Crete was adopted by a decisive vote.20
The association then appointed trustees for the new college and took initial steps to establish it.
A paper respecting "Fontanelle University" was referred to a committee consisting of Rev. Messrs. A. Dresser, John E. Elliott, and I. E. Heaton, to report on the following year, and when the report was called for, it was "No cause of action."21
This ends the history of Nebraska University so far as the State Association is concerned. "It can not be said that the enterprise--the Fontanelle School--ever reached secure footing, or even promised permanent success. At the outset the time was not ripe for such undertaking, and long before the general conditions were favorable, the particular locality selected for the school had ceased to claim attention, "22 The institution came to an end in August, 1873, but "May 15, 1874, the trustees held their last meeting and concluded their work. "23 This might he called the official ending of the Fontanelle school.
Mr. Gaylord was wont to speak of the "removal" of the college from Fontanelle to Crete,24 but the minutes of the association show that Fontanelle was abandoned and a new college organized at Crete.