Central State: From health resort to university over 130 years

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

This year marks the 130th anniversary of the creation of the Combined Normal and Industrial Department which evolved into Central State University.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The roots of CSU are entwined with neighbor Wilberforce University

The roots of Central State University are entwined with its neighbor Wilberforce University, the first private, historically African-American college formed in the United States.

Its been more than 130 years since the Combined Normal and Industrial Department at Wilberforce University, evolved into Central State University.

Each year CSU holds Charter Day Convocation, a time-honored celebration that reflects on the establishment of the school.

This year’s keynote speaker is Cook County (Chicago) Commissioner Richard R. Boykin who will speak March 6 at 10 a.m. in the Paul Robeson Cultural & Performing Arts Center.

A historic view of what would become the Central State University campus while the property was home to Wilberforce University. Arnett Hall, at right in this early photograph, was heavily damaged during a 1974 tornado that destroyed 80 percent of the campus. Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH
A historic view of what would become the Central State University campus while the property was home to Wilberforce University. Arnett Hall, at right in this early photograph, was heavily damaged during a 1974 tornado that destroyed 80 percent of the campus. Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH

ExplorePHOTOS: Central State University has compelling visual history

Compelling details make up CSU’s rich history. Here’s what you should know:

Built on the site of an early health resort: Wilberforce University was founded in 1856 at the former Tawawa Springs, a health resort located east of Xenia at a site adjoining the current location of Central State University.

Some didn't like the visitors: Southern slaveholders would travel to the resort for relaxation and often brought their slaves. Northerners did not approve of the practice and business declined. The resort closed in 1855.

The Carnegie Library at Central State University was built in 1907. It was one of only 9 Carnegie Libraries donated to historically black colleges after the turn of the 20th century. Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH
The Carnegie Library at Central State University was built in 1907. It was one of only 9 Carnegie Libraries donated to historically black colleges after the turn of the 20th century. Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH

An intellectual mecca: Named in honor of William Wilberforce, an 18th-century abolitionist, the Tawawa Springs hotel and cottages were transformed into Wilberforce University, to "provide an intellectual mecca and refuge from slavery's first rule: ignorance," according to the university's historical narrative.

Vocational education for the students: The new Combined Normal and Industrial Department offered teacher training and vocational education for students. An early catalogue listed auto mechanics, blacksmithing and forging, carpentry, and shoe-making and repairing among the courses.

Native flora: According to historical information provided by CSU's website, every tree native to Ohio and the Midwest is believed to be represented in the Tawawa Woods bordering the campus.

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In 1887 the Ohio General Assembly passed an act that created a Combined Normal and Industrial Department at Wilberforce University which would become Central State University.  The new school offered teaching training and vocational education for students. An early catalogue listed auto mechanics, blacksmithing and forging, carpentry, and shoe-making and repairing among the courses. Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH
In 1887 the Ohio General Assembly passed an act that created a Combined Normal and Industrial Department at Wilberforce University which would become Central State University. The new school offered teaching training and vocational education for students. An early catalogue listed auto mechanics, blacksmithing and forging, carpentry, and shoe-making and repairing among the courses. Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH

Four-year degree: Central State College was formed in 1951. The Combined Normal and Industrial Department developed into a four-year program and split from Wilberforce University in 1947 before being renamed.

A change in status: In 1965, the school achieved university status and became Central State University.

University leaders: Charles H. Wesley was the first president of Central State University. He served from 1947 to 1965. In 2012 Dr. Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, became the current university president.

Tornado devastates the university: A tornado destroyed more than 80 percent of the campus on April 3, 1974. Four people were killed and more than 20 others were injured. Thirteen buildings were destroyed and 29 others damaged. The damage amounted to $30 million.

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A scene of a banking class at the Combined Normal and Industrial Department at Wilberforce University which would become Central State University.  Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH
A scene of a banking class at the Combined Normal and Industrial Department at Wilberforce University which would become Central State University. Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH

Spirituals, gospel and jazz: The internationally acclaimed CSU chorus performs in many styles including African American spirituals, gospel and jazz. The group performs locally with the Dayton Opera and the Dayton Philharmonic as well as taking part in European tours and appearing at the White House.

Gardens symbolic for students: The Sunken Gardens serve as the heart of campus. Each fall, entering freshman march though the gardens during a candlelight ceremony. Graduating seniors proceed through the sunken gardens on their way to commencement.

Central State University has a long history of excellence in music and choir.  Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH
Central State University has a long history of excellence in music and choir. Reprinted by permission of Central State University Archives, Wilberforce, OH

Land-Grant Institution: Central State University was designated a Land-Grant Institution in 2014, a classification it had sought since 1890. It is one of only two universities in the state to achieve the designation.

ABOUT THIS FEATURE

HISTORY EXTRA is a weekly pictorial history feature showcasing the Miami Valley’s rich heritage. If you have a unique set of historic photos found in your parents’ or grandparents’ attic that depicts the past in the Miami Valley, contact Lisa Powell at 937-225-2229 or at Lisa.Powell@coxinc.com.