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Unusual Turn of Events Puts UCM in Warrensburg


As students and alumni roam UCM's tranquil campus, few know or could even imagine the story of how the university came to be located in Warrensburg.

The result of one of the most bizarre series of events in Missouri's early history, UCM would have been located 30 miles to the east if not for a last-minute bid, a failed legal challenge, a substantial change in board membership, a reversed decision, and no small amount of luck.

Here's the story, taken from the campus history Sandstones of Time, of how UCM came to Warrensburg.

Foster School
Borrowed rooms in Warrensburg's Foster School were the first classrooms for UCM students.

Although a movement for an improved education system began early in Missouri's history, it wasn't until after the Civil War that rapid educational progress began in the state.



Need for Teaching Training after Civil War

 

Since 1834, education leaders expressed the need for state-provided teacher training for public school educators. The laws authorized by the 1865 Missouri Constitution and Missouri's great need for educational facilities following the war encouraged the establishment of new schools and renewed the insistence that the state provide teacher training.

In 1869, Senator Wells H. Blodgett of Warrensburg introduced a Normal School Bill, which passed the state Senate. In the adjourned session of the 25th General Assembly, amendments were considered, and the Normal School Act was passed on March 19, 1870.

The act created two normal districts for the state, the first to include all of the counties north of the Missouri River and the second to include all of the counties south of the river except St. Louis County. A single board of seven regents was provided to manage both schools. The board was to designate school locations, secure campuses and buildings, and set policy for the future normals. It wasn't until 1874, after the General Assembly had provided for a third normal school in 1873, that separate boards of regents were appointed for the three schools.

Provisions were made so counties and cities could bid for the location of schools, and many communities entered bids of money, land and buildings.

 

Sedalia First Awarded Normal No. Two

 

On Dec. 1, 1870, the regents assembled in Jefferson City to open the bids. The board named Kirksville in Adair County as the location for the state normal north of the Missouri River. Pettis County had raised $75,000 to establish the second normal school in Sedalia, which was the site of an already operational private Central Normal School. After some deliberation, the regents awarded Sedalia the District Two Normal.

Dockery Building when constructed

The campus' oldest building is Dockery Hall, shown under construction in this photo. It is actually the fourth campus building; the others were destroyed by the fire of 1915.

However, an unusual turn of events cut short Sedalia's victory. After the regents adjourned their meeting, telegraphed bids were received from Franklin and Johnson counties. The bid from Johnson County included $150,000 in county bonds, $110,000 from a private subscription, and the gift of a campus. The regents reconvened Dec. 2, suspended the offer to Sedalia and reopened the bidding.

When the regents met again, the legality of the Johnson County bond election came into question. After much discussion, the board authorized Sedalia to begin opening the new state school in the summer of 1871. However, with the new year, came an almost complete turnover in Board of Regents members.

 

Warrensburg Made Final UCM SIte

 

During a meeting April 26, 1871, the board declared the Johnson County bond election legal and awarded the District Two Normal School to Warrensburg. The board arranged to open the school immediately and hired an architect to direct construction of a building on the unimproved 16-acre campus, which had been donated by Melville Foster. In the meantime, classes would meet in two borrowed rooms of the upper floor of the Warrensburg public schools' new Foster School. Warrensburg public schools were to be used as the Model Department, or training school, for the Normal.

Warrensburg's townspeople received the good news late on the evening of April 26, and church bells rang all night to herald the word.

Bands played, bonfires blazed and hundreds of people beat tin pans and made noise to show their delight and enthusiasm. Fourteen days later on May 10, 1871, Normal School for the Second District of Missouri began classes.