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Genesis of Carrier Seminary


Seminary Hall
Seminary Hall
In 1859 some local citizens generated a proposal for the creation of a seminary in Clarion, the earliest recoded evidence of an institution of higher education for Clarion, according to Caldwell's Illustrated Historical Combination Atlas of Clarion County. 

The proposal was forwarded to the Erie Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, but Civil War engulfed the nation before any action could be taken.  (The impact of wars throughout the history of Clarion, like many other colleges and universities, had a direct impact on enrollment and growth.)

The rich history of Clarion University of Pennsylvania straddles three different centuries and shows an institution with a commitment to meet the needs of its students and an ever-expanding service area. The Clarion "community" has evolved from the immediate greater Clarion area to western Pennsylvania to the state, nation and world. It all started as a dream of providing local advanced education through a seminary to the current Clarion University that is part of Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education.

Two events would renew interest in the proposal: the end of the Civil War and an upcoming centennial celebration, Methodism in America.

Erie report ties seminary to centennial

In the report of its Education Committee, the Erie Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in session at Jamestown, N.Y., July 1865, was apprised of the merits in establishing seminaries to further the endeavors of the church and appropriately observe its centennial.

"Especially would we urge the claims of our literary institutions upon our people, now that we are approaching our centenary year of American Methodism, when it is presumed that every man, particularly if he has means, will desire to make a memorial offering. In what other way could a man so surely make for himself a lasting memorial as by endowing a professorship in one of these institutions, and thus honorably connect himself with the vital forces which are to give character to future generations. In this connection we express the earnest hope that our Seminaries will not be overlooked. It is exceedingly desirable that at least the principalship of each of these should be well endowed, and the institution furnished with ample facilities for the illustration of the elements of science.

"We would not forbear to mention that there is a growing and felt necessity for two more Methodist Seminaries, one in Western New York, and one in the South Eastern portion of our Conference. And we desire our people to understand that it will be the pleasure of this Conference to establish such Schools so soon as it shall be known that at suitable places, the Conference being judge, there are means ready to be placed at its disposal for the erection of suitable buildings."

Convention called at Clarion

Following that recommendation, Presiding Elder Rev. R.H. Hurlburt called together District preachers and lay March 13, 1866, for a convention at Clarion to initiate the establishment of a seminary within its bounds and seek approval for a Clarion site. Rev. R.M. Bear was employed as financial agent to solicit subscriptions to erect a building. In July the Conference Education Committee reported the subscriptions already totaled $11,000. The Conference agreed to accept the seminary under its patronage and control when subscriptions totaled $30,000.

Contributors met March 18, 1867, to organize a board of trustees consisting of George W. Arnold, Samuel Wilson, Jacob Black, John Keatly, James Ross, Hiram Carrier, Nathan Carrier Jr., David Lawson, William Young, James Knox, Hurchman Torrance, John Coaz, Nathan Myers, Martin Kearney and John Strattan.  A building committee was chosen, a corporate charter secured, and a contract let for construction of the buildings before the annual conference met in July.

Clarion (Carrier Seminary) opens doors Sept. 10, 1867

The institution began operation Sept. 10, 1867, as the Carrier Seminary of Western Pennsylvania. It was named in honor of the Carrier family for their contributions of $6,000 and lumber for the endeavor. Lacking any facilities of its own, classes were held in the old academy building. The Seminary was a coeducational institution with the Rev. James G. Townsend as principal and Miss A.E. Rinehart as preceptress.

Carrier's calendar called for three, 13-week terms with tuition as follows:

Common English branches: $6, Higher English branches: $7, and Languages: $8.

In the spring of 1868 subscriptions reached $24,000 and the trustees authorized the building program to begin. The cornerstone of Seminary Hall, a massive three-storied brick structure 60 feet by 110 feet, was laid June of the same year. Additional funding was received early the following year through bonds authorized by the state legislature.  However, the building lingered long in construction and was completed in the fall of 1871. The total cost, including furniture, was $75,000. In addition, a two-story wooden structure was erected for the boarding department. The buildings were erected on a seven-acre plot of land purchased from George M. Arnold, local banker and philanthropist. The corporation also purchased approximately two acres from the Samuel Sloan family.

Literary societies, long a fixture of secondary and collegiate institutions were, according to the Clarion Democrat, organized during the principalship of Rev. Stuntz. The Clionian Society was the first such society with the Zetagethean Society being founded at a later date.

Looking for a Normal School in Clarion

In 1872 some professional and businessmen of Clarion started a movement to secure a state normal school for the town. Enrollment for the period seems to have been substantial since the faculty included 10 academic instructors plus two music instructors. Courses of study embraced ancient and modern classics, mathematics, natural sciences, commercial calculation, painting, drawing, penmanship, music and normal science. Carrier was described in an advertisement in the conference minutes as "The only Normal College for the perfection of teachers under the supervision of the M.E. Church."

Professor Steadman was succeeded in office by Professor J.S. Milliken who served one year. The report of the trustees to the annual conference at the conclusion of Milliken's term indicated an indebtedness of about $20,000, a sizable one for that day and age. This was another foreboding of things to come

Barbarian Pagent
Early student group at Clarion.


The corporation was not the only entity under financial pressure. Consider the plight of the principal. The seminary was proprietary in nature, hence his salary was based on the tuition collected, minus operating expenses. Since enrollment was meager, so was the principal's salary. To mitigate the circumstances, the principal's wife frequently served as governess, cook and housekeeper. Minutes of the corporation indicate that monies were expended to purchase cattle and to build/repair a pig sty. A viable hypotheses is that the principal family or the students tended the animals to lessen costs.

William Todd was next to assume the leadership at Carrier, becoming principal in the fall of 1874. Todd, born of English immigrants in 1838 in Allegheny County, was raised on an Armstrong County farm and educated in the South Buffalo Township School. After several years as a teacher he enlisted in the Union Army. At the end of the war he entered Allegheny College, receiving his degree in 1868. Todd then served as principal of the Toms River (N.J.) School, professor of mathematics at Wyoming Seminary (Pa.), principal of the public school at Smithfield (Ohio), and principal of Carrier.

When Todd took office, the country was in the throes of a depression precipitated by the failure of the banking firm of Jay Cooke and Company. The financial depression caused a decline in the oil and lumbering industries of northwestern Pennsylvania, resulting in a decline in enrollment at Carrier.

Many of the students were enrolled for only part of the term.  Carrier's advertised policy was to "receive students at anytime and charge them proportionally." 

The only accurate and verifiable attendance figures for the Seminary Era are those for the Todd administration, 1874-1877. In fact, the minutes of the seminary trustees and the conference are the only known official records of any type that are available for the period.  A count of student names in the handwritten register reveals enrollment of 161 in 1874, 143 in 1875, and 138 in 1876. These are total registration figures for each of the three-term academic years.

Few students apparently remained at Carrier long enough to complete their education. The newspapers revealed that two graduated in 1877, four in 1880, one in 1881 and two in 1882.

Promoting enrollment

In William Todd's efforts to promote enrollment at Carrier he extolled the virtues of the institution and the town. Part of an advertisement in the 1875 published minutes of the conference stated, "The present teachers are experienced, thorough and practical educators; persons under whose supervision parents need not fear to place their sons or daughters.


  • "The MUSIC DEPARTMENT, in charge of Miss Mary R. Jenks, a very superior teacher, has been especially successful.
  • "The main building is ... nicely and comfortably arranged.
  • "The village ... is distinguished for its healthfulness, quietness and morality."


Entering the second decade with continuing leadership challenges

As the institution entered its second decade, the Rev. A. Baker succeeded Professor Todd who had been elected professor of mathematics and natural science at Beaver College and Musical Institute located in Beaver County. Rev. Baker served as principal and teacher while his wife served as governess and teacher. Enrollment declined to 21 in 1877.

The committee of visitors appointed by the annual conference felt that poor health and almost total disability of Rev. Baker during the year was a contributing factor in the decline. In its report to the 1878 meeting of the conference, the visitors recommended that the board of trustees should employ a more healthful and active principal "to secure more efficiency and give Carrier Seminary the place it deserves, and the hold on the hearts of our people."

Baker was replaced by Professor M. Thrasher on Oct. 31, 1878. Enrollment rocketed upward to 135. Course listings for the year included science, normal, college preparatory and music.

The seminary facilities were used to conduct a Normal Training Session for 50 Clarion County teachers in July 1879. This was the first of a number of such summer institutes conducted at the Seminary under the leadership or influence of A.J. Davis, superintendent of schools.

Next to assume the helm was the Rev. Levi Beers. Born June 14, 1845, he spent his early life in Ohio and Illinois. After serving in the Civil War, he attended Baldwin-Wallace College earning an A.B. degree and later receiving the degree of A.M.

Money problems continue

When Rev. Beers became principal March 25, 1880, he found the seminary courting financial disaster. Its indebtedness totaled about $30,000, and by the next year it had reached $35,000. In 1881 divine providence provided a slight reprieve for the financially embarrassed seminary as large sums of money were made available to lighten the burden. The First National Bank of Clarion made a donation of $17,655.80, and local subscriptions further reduced the debt to $14,000. The trustees received a loan of $12,400 from Rev. John M. Edwards, a Carrier Seminary graduate. In return for the loan the institution was leased to Rev. Edwards for 25 years. These monies were obtained mainly through the endeavors of Rev. Reuben C. Smith, the institution's financial agent.

During the Beers administration the institution was criticized for its alleged attempt to make the students good Republicans and good Methodists. Rev. Beers left the institution in 1882 and served a number of charges throughout the conference before leaving the area to become principal of the Harvey Industrial Academy in Illinois in 1892. After serving Harvey several years, deafness and, somewhat later, blindness set in. He succumbed on Feb. 16, 1919.

The 10th and last principal of the seminary was its lienholder, Rev. Edwards. He was born in 1844 and suffered from chronic ill health. He served two congregations before assuming the reins at Carrier, and one after it was sold. Then he withdrew from the ministry and went into semi-retirement as a farmer and merchant until his demise in 1904.

Like many other proprietary educational institutions of the time, the operation of the seminary was a family endeavor. The Edwards family resided in the portion of Seminary Hall that later became the library. Rev. Edwards was principal, teacher and general factotum. His wife, Margaret, had the responsibility for the board and room for the students, who resided on the top floor of the building. Mrs. Edwards and her helper, Mrs. Ella Dietrich English, did the cleaning and cooking not only for the family, but also for the students. The baking was done in an outside oven to the rear of the building, according to Mildred McMahan, a granddaughter of Rev. Edwards.

Under its new leader Carrier seemed to be on the rebound, but such was not the case. An enrollment of 88 during the 1883-84 academic year, plus the inquiries for the next year, must have prompted Rev. Edwards to thwart the efforts of Professor E.A. Hayes of Randolph, N.Y., to obtain control of Carrier Seminary. Rev. Edwards and the trustees, authorized improvements for buildings costing more than $500. The decision saw enrollment the follow year reached 130. In 1985-85 enrollment again increased to 165, but 126 were participants in a spring normal course supervised by Professor Rosswell G. Yingling who rented the facilities.

By the close of the school year (July 1885) the debt had risen to $20,000, and by the following year to $21,500. Bankruptcy was once again confronting the seminary. Amid an undertow of maneuvering to purchase the buildings and grounds by a group seeking to establish a state normal school, Professor Yingling, secretary for the institution, announced on June 23, 1886, that the institution would not reopen as a seminary in the fall.

On Sept. 10, 1886, exactly 19 years from the day classes first met, the sale of the buildings and grounds was consummated. The sum of $25,000 was agreed upon in Brookville during a special meeting of representatives of the M.E. Church and those of the Clarion Normal School Association, thus ending the life of Carrier Seminary as an institution of higher education.

Seminary stockholders look to the State for purchase

It also seems unlikely that the board of trustees gave its wholehearted support. As early as 1872 several of the leading stockholders began focus upon one goal, conversion of the seminary to a state normal school.

A third factor creating difficulties for the institution was competition for potential students in a county that could not have been termed populous. In his 1877 report to the superintendent of public instruction, A.J. Davis noted there were seven "higher" institutions, including Carrier, operating in the county. Also, the demise of Carrier somewhat mirrored the times. The latter half of the 1800s was an era characterized by the waxing of the public high school and waning of the private academy and seminary.

The short career of the seminary is somewhat reminiscent of the statement by Professor Lindsley of Nashville University, who, when speaking of the proliferation of colleges during the early 19th century, noted that these institutions "... rise up like mushrooms in our luxurious soil. They are duly lauded and puffed for a day, and then they sink to be heard no more." Such was the fate of Carrier Seminary, for inquiry revealed that its Methodist affiliation was unknown to the conference historian. No mention of the institution was found in A.W. Cummings' "The Early Schools of Methodism," an extensive history and listing of Methodist educational endeavors and institutions in the United States. No space was devoted to this forgotten child of the Erie Conference in J.N. Fradenburgh's two-volume "History of Erie Conference."