Spring Garden College officially closed in the early 1990′s. This article was originally published in the school newspaper.
140 Years – A history of practical education
by Chris Calhoun, PE (BSEET ’81)
A brief look at Spring Garden College’s history can provide much insight to it place in industry, and unique approach to higher learning. In 1851, Spring Garden Institute was formed by a group of prominent Philadelphians. The school’s first President, John M. Ogden, realized that the Industrial Revolution had created the necessity for technically competent individuals with practical training, in addition to the theoretical knowledge of a classical education. This concept, which was revolutionary at the time, has been the cornerstone of Spring Garden College’s philosophy for 140 years.
The original institute was located on the East Side of Broad Street, north of Spring Garden Street, in the municipality of Spring Garden, which was not yet within the Philadelphia City limits. During the 1850′s, the school’s forte was already clearly defined; in fact, mechanical drawing and architecture were major parts of the early curriculum.
Interrupted by the Civil War, the school went thorough an unfocused period, as it began to cater to the affluent residents of Spring Garden rather than the young tradespeople for which the institute was intended. The school revitalized around the time of the Centennial, when Philadelphia marble magnate John Baird and newspaper editor Addison Burk assumed control. Spring Garden Institute resumed its technical training with vigor, and so impressed area leaders that similar institutes were initiated elsewhere. Most notable of these was Drexel Institute, now Drexel University, which was modeled after Spring Garden Institute by its founder, Anthony J. Drexel.
Addison Burk’s personal friendship with Thomas Edison resulted in teaching of electrical classes at Spring Garden Institute. Sixty-seven students attended the first class in practical electricity at Spring Garden in 1892. One of the school’s most successful students enrolled in 1894 – Eldridge R. Johnson, who founded the Victor Talking Machine Company, later known as RCA-Victor.
Through the first half of the 1900′s, Spring Garden Institute continued to prosper with considerable growth following WWII, In 1957, the Institute gained stature as a Junior College, and awarded its first Associates Degrees in 1959. In 1963, Robert H. Thompson became President, and presided over additional expansion in the latter 1960′s .
In 1969, in order to accommodate increasing enrollment, the school relocated to and renovated a light manufacturing plant, formerly owned by the Yarnell Corporation in Chestnut Hill. At the same time, Spring Garden Institute was renamed Spring Garden College, and Bachelors Degrees were offered for the first time in the school’s 118 year history. The college continued with its “hands-on” approach, via the Technology program, adding important business, math, and humanities courses, necessary for a more complete education.
In the 1970’s, the school continued to grow, and enhance it curriculum. Dr. Thompson, who had successfully led the school through its transition from Institute to College, retired in 1977 and was followed by Dr. Daniel M. DeLucca, formerly of St. Joesph’s College. In order to provide living accommodations and expand further, the college bought the present campus at 7500 Germantown Avenue. In 1985, Spring Garden College took residence at the 33-acre site, formerly belonging to the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.
The historical campus, while and ideal setting, has been difficult and costly to maintain. Increased overhead, coupled with declining enrollment (a national trend) proved to be overwhelming, and the school began to lose money.
In 1990, under a cloud of fiscal turmoil, Dr. DeLucca resigned, and was replaced by Dr. John J. Mulhern. Dr. Mulhern’s tenure was brief, but in that time, he managed to significantly improve the school’s financial position by consolidation, prudent use of resources, and timely fund raising, grants, and donations. Dr. Mulhern resigned in the summer of 1991, and has been succeeded by acting President Richard C. Ustick.
Mr. Ustick, a retired admiral with 35 years of administrative experience, is continuing with judicious resource management. Additionally, he has filled some key vacancies, and undertaken an aggressive recruitment program.
Through the Industrial, Electronic, and Computer Revolutions, the college’s goals have remained clear. At this point in time, with careful investment of assets, and a growing student body, the College is poised to enter the 21st century continuing to provide the quality education that has served the college community, and the individual for the last 140 years.
Based on “Spring Garden History” by Ted Taylor, and other college information.