The steep incline north of present-day Columbia Middle School on North Third Street (State Road 17) is known as College Hill because of the stately Smithson College that once occupied the hilltop overlooking the city. The four-story brick building was a boarding school for both men and women. It was heated by steam, lighted by gas, and contained offices, classrooms, two gyms, a library, cabinet and society rooms, a chapel, a lecture room, and a dining room.
According to Jehu Z. Powell’s History of Cass County Indiana:
“The name is derived from Joshua Smithson, of Vevay, Ind., who bequeathed a portion of his estate, in trust, for the up-building and maintenance of a school above the grade prescribed by the public school system. Mrs. Elizabeth Pollard, widow of the late Philip Pollard, of Logansport, proposed a donation of $20,000, on condition that the grade of the institution, instead of taking that of an academy, should be a college or university, whose sphere would unite the common school with the highest grade of instruction found in the colleges, East or West, and that it should be located in Logansport.”
The building’s doors were made of black walnut and the floors of Norway pine. The chapel, lecture room, and dining room were of black walnut and ash. The building was completed in 1872 at a cost of $80,000. That year, the student body numbered about 300.
The first president of Smithson College was a teacher and administrator from a New York college named Paul Raymond Kendall. His daughters Gertrude and Marion also attended the school.
Within only six years, Smithson College suspended classes and the site was leased by the American Normal College, which used the facility between 1883 and 1888. The building stood vacant from 1889 through 1895 when it became the short-lived home of Michael’s College. Renowned local artist Wilson “Wils” Reed Berry was head of Michael’s College Art Department.
When locals talk about the college fire they will probably tell you that the fire started when a lace curtain touched the flame of a kerosene heater being used to heat a lady’s curling iron. That is the story that has been told and passed along for decades. However, local newspapers of the day tell a different story.