Student finds piece of history on National Register campus

A geology student unearthed a small piece of history on Cornell College’s National Historic District campus: an 1889 penny lost sometime in the last 120 years.

Photo by Blake Rasmussen '05
Photo by Blake Rasmussen ’05

Sophomore Chase Nowak of Colorado Springs, Colo., was walking between Tarr Hall and The Commons when he noticed a copper coin that he recognized was not a Lincoln head penny.

“I saw that it was stuck in the mud. I had to pry it out with a stick, so it had to have been there for a long time,” said Nowak, a geology and economics and business major. Nowak, a coin collector, gave away the penny that is now worth about $1.

When the penny was minted, the college was just 36 years old, William Fletcher King was president, and there were 190 students and four buildings (Old Sem, College Hall, South Hall, and Bowman Hall). The Rock was delivered by sled to campus that year by members
of the senior class who found it at what would become Palisades-Kepler State Park.

1889 was also a banner year for physical education on the Hilltop. Professor and preceptress Harriette J. Cooke pressed for equal physical fitness activities for female students, and a “ladies battalion”—complete with uniforms and, for senior women, rifles— began that year. The student Cornell Athletic Association funded and built a small, barnlike gymnasium in 1889 (it burned down 15 months later). Also that year, representatives of Cornell, Grinnell, the University of Iowa, and Iowa State College at Ames met at Cornell and formed the Inter-Collegiate Baseball League.

Cornell College’s campus is one of just three campuses listed in their entirety in the National Register of Historic Places. Also holding that honor are Huntingdon College and Illinois Institute of Technology.

The following are among the world events that also occurred in 1889:

  • The Coca-Cola Company, then known as the Pemberton Medicine Company, was incorporated in Atlanta, Ga.
  • Columbia Phonograph was formed in Washington, D.C.
  • Grover Cleveland was succeeded as U.S. president by Benjamin Harrison.
  • The Eiffel Tower opened.
  • The first Wall Street Journal was published.
  • Vincent van Gogh painted “Starry Night.”
  • The Nintendo Koppai (Later Nintendo Company) was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi to produce and market Hanafuda playing cards.
  • North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington were admitted to the United States.
  • Musician Leadbelly, painter Thomas Hart Benton, actor/director Charlie Chaplin, and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein were born.