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Records of the Office of the Treasurer (Group 7)
[23] Records of the Office of the Treasurer, 1822-1950, 50 l.f.

Administrative History

The first Oberlin College treasurer was appointed in 1834. Over the subsequent six decades, this officer also served as college secretary (or corresponding secretary) to the board of trustees. In addition to preparing the board’s correspondence, the treasurer maintained records of donations, expenditures, fees collected, loans, and scholarships. The treasurer also managed the College’s investments and property, including buildings and grounds. In 1899, the board of trustees created the Office of the Secretary, separating its clerical responsibilities from those duties of the treasurer.

Over the next century, functional responsibility for Oberlin College’s buildings and grounds would change administrative hands a number of times. These functions were sometimes carried out in several administrative departments. Between 1904 and 1955, the College Treasurer managed all matters of property activity. This responsibility was passed onto Business Manager Lewis R. Tower, who was in office from 1955 to 1971. After several name changes, the title ultimately became the Office of Vice-President of Business and Finance. Reporting directly to the president, this newly expanded office held responsibility for the old functions of the treasurer and the Investment Committee. In the administrative reorganization of 1989 the functions of the treasurer were once again directed at managing the investments and property assets of the College. In 1995, these duties fell to a vice-president of finance.

Scope and Content

The records of the Office of the Treasurer contain much information pertinent to the study of the architectural history of Oberlin. Record series, consisting of ledgers and accounts, report on the funding of several early college dormitories. The record group contains information on the estate of Charles Martin Hall which include his specifications and restrictions against the building of further structures upon Tappan Square, as outlined in his will. A “Book of Donations” documents the use of Colonial Hall as a residence for students, ca. 1837. The most interesting information to be gleaned from the Records of the Treasurer is to be found in the large correspondence series, which holds extensive communication between Oberlin’s architects and its financial officers. Document holdings of key correspondents are reported in alphabetical order below.

Correspondence

  1. Andrew Auten (Correspondence file: Arnold E. - Bolabandorf)

Landscape architect Andrew Auten sent five letters to the College between 1895 and 1907. The last two discuss a project of Auten’s with a group of students to plant shrubbery around several college buildings for the cost of $50.

  1. F.N. Finney (Correspondence File )

This file contains 31 letters to and from Frederick Norton Finney and Oberlin College treasurers between 1885 and 1903. Letters from 1886 and 1903 discuss the construction of Finney Chapel: its placement and its funding, the feasibility of keeping the Finney Homestead versus demolishing it, and Finney’s own view of its architect.

  1. William G. Frost (Correspondence File: Frampton, John R. - Frost, Wm. G.)

Forty-five letters, 1878-1905, to and from William G. Frost outline his work as a fund raiser for the College and his personal financial relationship with the institution. Two sections of correspondence are of special interest. In 1886, Frost was able to secure $50,000 from the Peters family for the reconstruction of Ladies Hall after fire damage. Information about the need for the hall’s furnishings and the request for other building funds is also noted. From 1896 to 1902, Frost attempted to sell his private residence in Oberlin, located at 27 N. Professor St. The property and its final sale to the College are described in detail.

  1. Cass Gilbert (Correspondence File: Geach, Wm. - Glover, C.M.)

This group contains two letters written by architect Cass Gilbert to the Oberlin College treasurer in the summer of 1907. Both letters concern money owed to George Feick, the contractor of Finney Chapel.

  1. Patton, Fisher & Miller, Architects (Correspondence File: Patton, Fisher & Miller, Architects)

This file contains 13 letters, 1884-1906, sent to Oberlin College officials by architect Normand S. Patton of Chicago, who was affiliated with the architectural firms (Randall & Patton; Patton & Fisher; Patton, Fisher & Miller; and Patton & Miller). The earliest correspondence, 1884-1886, asks that Patton be kept in mind as a potential architect for Oberlin’s new library and replacement for the burnt out Ladies Hall. The letters from 1900 describe the rebuilding of Lord Cottage following a fire, including descriptions of the building’s second and third floors and a proposal for better fire protection and escape. The cost, billing, and available endowment funds connected with Carnegie Library are discussed in the letters of 1906.

  1. Richard G. Peters

R.G. Peters, an Oberlin College benefactor of Manistee, Michigan, owned the R.G. Peters Salt and Lumber Company that manufactured lumber, shingles, and salt, and dealt in general merchandise. This one-time Oberlin College student, now timber king, provided funds to restore Second Ladies Hall and to build Peters Hall in 1886. His 82 letters, 1883-1907, document his 25-year relationship—including financial donations—with Oberlin through Giles W. Shurtleff, J.B.T. Marsh, William G. Frost, George B. Kimball, and James R. Severance. Peters’ philanthropy, along with that of steamship owner Captain Alva Bradley, made the bulky Peters Hall a reality.

  1. J.L. Silsbee (Correspondence File: J.L. Silsbee)

This file contains 60 letters and one sketch of the Oberlin College campus, 1902-1907, between the Chicago architect J.L. Silsbee and Oberlin College officials.

The largest body of correspondence concerns the Memorial Arch located on the western edge of Tappan Square. Letters from 1902-1903 detail the monument’s design, appearance, cost and the contractors and artisans employed on the project. There is extensive discussion of the text and tablets and the debate among the arch’s planners over this issue. The later letters discuss Silsbee’s interest in the plan and layout of the college campus, and his interest to complete further work for Oberlin College.

  1. Weary and Kramer (Correspondence File: Weary and Kramer)

The correspondence file for the architectural firm of Weary and Kramer (Akron, Ohio) contains 55 letters, 1884-1895. This file consists primarily of incoming correspondence to College officials (e.g., Charles G. Fairchild, J.B.T. Marsh, and Gen. G.W. Shurtleff), along with a few bills and receipts for various expenses. Buildings covered include Baldwin Cottage, Lord Cottage, Peters Hall (referred to as the Recitation or Observatory Hall), Spear Library-Laboratory, Talcott Hall (also called Ladies or Boarding Hall), and the private home of Gen. Giles W. Shurtleff. Topics in this correspondence include building plans and designs, interior and exterior decoration, billing and payment procedures, and changes within the architectural staff. Of special interest are letters, 1885-1895, discussing the interior of Peters Hall, including its heating system, oak ceilings, and cost overruns; letters concerning the College’s stance on the appearance and construction costs of its buildings; an outline of the Gothic character of Spear Library-Laboratory with descriptions and price estimates for the building’s lights and windows, 1884; and detailed descriptions, 1892, of the original intended appearance of Lord Cottage and the Shurtleff home. Also of interest is the mention of the use of local contractors and carpenters who were involved in the construction of Baldwin and Lord cottages, 1892-1893.

 
 
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