You probably heard about President Barack Obama’s recent appearance at Knox, but he isn’t the only sitting U.S. president to ever set foot on campus. Did you know that President Benjamin Harrison was here in 1890 to lay the cornerstone for Alumni Hall?
At least, he laid one of its three cornerstones. What we know today as Alumni Hall originally was three separate buildings. Each got a cornerstone and a cornerstone-laying ceremony. Alumni Hall actually is just the middle part of the structure.
The west wing is Adelphi, and the east wing is Gnothautii — both names of men’s literary societies on campus. The societies helped pay for the construction of what we now call Alumni Hall. The three parts of the building (Adelphi, Alumni Hall, and Gnothautii) were completely separate, and you couldn’t get from one to the other unless you stepped outside.
Of the three cornerstone-laying ceremonies, the most well-known, and probably the most popular, involved Harrison. He already was in town for a military reunion with men from the brigade he’d commanded in the Civil War, so it was easy for him to stop by Knox, too. While in Galesburg, he also met up with his Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers from Knox and Lombard colleges — the Delta and Zeta chapters — and told them that a person’s college days “are the days that affect the whole future.”
Harrison laid the Alumni Hall cornerstone on October 8, 1890, and a tremendous group of veterans, Knox students and faculty, Galesburg residents, and other folks showed up. In all, the crowd numbered about 10,000!