Tuesday, May 23, 2017

125th Anniversary of the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company

by Bryan Whitledge

Exactly 125 years ago, a small group of individuals came together with the goal of creating something that would benefit Mount Pleasant and Isabella County. Throughout Michigan, communities such as Muskegon and Saginaw had been purchasing land, selling off the lots, and using the proceeds to establish hubs of industry in an effort to increase the population and bring in more revenue. In Mount Pleasant, this group of individuals, who called their enterprise the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company (MPIC), decided that doing the same would benefit their town, but rather than industry, the best route was to make this small Midwestern town of 2,700 inhabitants, “the educational point for Central Michigan.”

First page of the Mount Pleasant
Improvement Company record book
showing the first entry on May 24, 1892.
click on image to enlarge
Sixteen citizens of Mount Pleasant made up the initial membership of the MPIC, and they convened their first meeting at 9:00 am on Tuesday, May 24, 1892, at the “private offices of the Exchange Bank on Main Street in the City of Mount Pleasant.” Of these sixteen members, nine were named directors: Douglas H. Nelson (President), Michael Devereaux (Vice President), Frank D. Patterson (Treasurer), Samuel W. Hopkins (Secretary), Charles M. Brooks (Manager of the Association), Isaac A. Fancher, Wilkinson Doughty, George A. Dusenbury, and John W. Hance. By the end of that first day, the group had determined that they would create an institution of higher education called “Normal University.”**

To create the “Normal University,” which they later decided to call the Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute, the MPIC needed to inject capital into the community, as one would say in the twenty-first century. The MPIC put $500 down and secured a loan for $7,500 to purchase 52 acres of the Hursh farm (land now occupied by Central Michigan University). Of the 52 acres, 10 were set aside for the Normal School and the rest was separated into 224 lots. Those lots were then put on the market to raise funds for the operations of the Normal School and the new building. Initially, 174 lots were sold for $110 each. Later 49 more sold at a price of $150 each. With this revenue, the MPIC was well positioned to give the newly-appointed principal, Charles F. Bellows, the resources he needed to start a higher education institution in Mount Pleasant.

Advertisement from the Isabella County Enterprise (July 22, 1892)
offering lots for sale to support the Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute.

So Central started on ten acres with a community investment of about $25,000 and served twenty students in the first graduating class. Now, in 2017, CMU has evolved to include a 480-acre main campus (not to mention the numerous satellite sites and research facilities across the country) with a $130 million endowment that saw 3,100 students receive degrees earlier this month. It is safe to say that, 125 years later, the Mount Pleasant Improvement Company has achieved its goal of creating something that would benefit Mount Pleasant and Isabella County, let alone the state, country, and entire world.

Groundbreaking of the new Normal Building, September 19, 1892,
located on the site where Warriner Hall stands today.
**Normal was a common term for teacher training colleges and universities. The term comes from the French, where the accepted standards for teaching that were taught to aspiring instructors were referred to as "norms."

This is the first of many items of information detailing the history of Central Michigan University in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the institution. Be sure to check out the official 125th Anniversary website – http://anniversary.cmich.edu – and the Clarke’s upcoming exhibit, opening this fall, for more great stories.