A Collage of Colleges (and a High School, too)

If land is affected by what is built on it—in other words, if a church makes ground holy and a mine makes it holey—then the parcel bordered by Main and Harrison Streets and 11th and 12th Avenues is one of the most educated sites in Davenport.

It all started in June1846 when the Congregationalist-based Iowa College Association chose as the site of its proposed college the city of Davenport, “for ease of access and beauty of situation.”*  They  asked that the people of Davenport donate the land and $14,000 towards the building of the college, while the members of the Association would raise the rest of the funds.  This was done, and by 1848, Rev. Erastus Ripley, professor of languages, began teaching classes in the brand new building on a thirteen-lot campus.

Although Iowa College does not appear to have suffered from poor enrollment, the decision was made in the 1850s to move the College about 120 miles west to the town of Grinnell.  Iowa College retained its name until 1909, when it was renamed Grinnell College.

The empty Davenport buildings didn’t stay empty for long.  In 1858, Episcopalian Bishop Henry Washington Lee bought the Iowa College property on behalf of the Diocese for $36,000.  It was decided to name the new college after the late Bishop Alexander Viets Griswold.  The preparatory department of Griswold College opened on December 12, 1859, to thirty students under the care of Rev. Francis Emerson Judd and Professor David. S. Sheldon.**   College-level curriculum development followed as well as a degree program.  The first commencement exercises of Griswold College took place on June 23, 1867.

By the 1877-78 term, Griswold College was offering courses in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Advanced Mathematics, Modern History, Physiology and Hygiene, Logic, Oratory, Natural Philosophy, Astronomy, Intellectual Philosophy, both Natural and Political Science,  and Theology.  Graduates earned a Bachelor of Art or a Bachelor of Science degree, or were ordained as Episcopalian clergy.  Griswold even boasted a literary magazine, called College World.

In 1885, Griswold opened a separate boys’ preparatory school, and named it Kemper Hall, after Bishop Jackson Kemper, who had been instrumental in organizing the College.  Unfortunately, Kemper Hall only lasted ten years and Griswold College itself closed about the same time.  Although the history books are not clear on why, it is speculated that the College, which had been supported largely by the Diocese of Iowa and private donations, was having ongoing financial troubles and a prolonged drop in enrollment.

The Davenport public school system, on the other hand, was enjoying a rise in enrollment and needed to expand.  On March 12, 1900, Davenport voters—including women, for the first time in Davenport history—agreed to the city’s plan of buying the old Griswold College site for a new city high school.  The property, which included Kemper Hall, was purchased for $53,000. 

Planned to accommodate 1,600 students, the new Davenport High School (later renamed Central High School) opened in January of 1907.  As part of the School’s recent centennial anniversary, Kemper Hall, which has been used for various educational purposes throughout the years, was renovated; it currently  houses the Journalism department and the yearbook staff and provides general classroom space.

It might be too much to assume that just standing on this intellectually–saturated site might covey a working knowledge of Latin or (as present students might hope) a grasp of algebraic principles.  But if there is anything to geographic resonance, the students of Central High School might at least feel a strange sort of comforting fellowship when taking difficult exams, a camaraderie born of shared test anxieties steeped in more than 160 years of tradition.


*Aurner, Clarence. ”The Founding of Iowa College.” Palimpsest (vol. 25, no. 3, March 1944), p.76  

**Professor Sheldon later became the first president of the Davenport Academy of Science, which evolved into the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science.

(posted by Sarah)


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