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Chapter Three

The Era of Civic Duty 1917-69

WWI was the first major disruptor in Potsdam. Clarkson College, as well as other higher education institutions, was asked to step up to do its national and civic duty. To aid in the war effort, Clarkson shifted schedules and curriculum. After the war, college life returned to normal, but then was disrupted again by the Depression. During the Depression, Clarkson enrollments hovered around 500 students. To raise everyone’s spirits, the Ice Carnival was created. Then, World War II disrupted everything again as men went off to war. In 1944, enrollment was 162. Clarkson participated in readying young men for war with its strong ROTC program and a two-month technical training program.

Everything changed again when the GIs came back. The governor of New York and the President of the United States asked colleges and universities to help the men with re-entry. As a result, in 1946, Clarkson enrollment soared to 1,351. This near tripling of maximum capacity was handled by sending 400 freshmen and sophomores to a temporary campus in Malone until 1951. The Downtown Campus mushroomed with surplus military buildings and equipment.

The Clarkson ROTC programs remained vital as the United States entered the Vietnam and Korean wars. WWII brought more women into the workplace, and in the aftermath, they returned to Clarkson.

During the period from 1917 to 1969, Clarkson celebrated its 25th and 50th anniversaries.

World War I

Civic Duty During the Wars

By U.S. government request, in June 1918, Clarkson began a Student Army Training Corp using Clarkson faculty and staff to train three contingents of 160 new draftees in various technical skills for two months. The third and last contingent was interrupted by the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Over 70 Clarkson graduates served on active duty in WWI; over 300 served in some capacity, including in the student training corps. The service of these Clarkson students is commemorated on a plaque in Old Main.

The ROTC Engineering Corps was established in 1936 under Clarkson president James S. Thomas, not to promote the spirit of militarism, but “for the benefit of the students so if and when an emergency arose, students would be ready to lead” (YB, 2007).

In 1937, the honorary military fraternity Clarkson Guard was formed, and in 1938, the first military ball was held.


A Civil Aeronautics Administration course that was offered required students to sign a pledge to join the Air Corps of any of the military branches. This pledge was called in, and over 50 served in the Civil Air Patrol out of Massena. In 1944, Clarkson purchased the Dullea farm and constructed runways, using an old barn as a hanger. The field was named after Trustee Ralph Damon, head of American Airlines, who had been drafted by the U.S. government to develop Republic Air during the war.


In 1941, the U.S. Department of Education sponsored Engineering, Science and Management War Training to train students to work in industry. Classes were taught from 4 p.m. to midnight. In 1943, three contingents of new draftees were sent to Clarkson for the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).

There were also Army snafus, however. Benefitting from such a snafu were the “Lucky Dozen,” Clarkson ROTC students who received orders to report to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. There was no room, however, so they returned to Potsdam, and when no further orders were forthcoming, they started attending classes. Halfway into the semester, they were ordered to report to New York University; they refused to leave, and the Army allowed them to stay at Clarkson to complete their courses. The Dozen ate and slept with the ASTP cadets, but mocked their march to ASTP classes, as the Dozen went to the “civilian” classes.


After Pearl Harbor, Clarkson president John A. Ross offered Clarkson services to the government and encouraged students to remain in school. In 1942, Clarkson, along with most other institutions of higher education, changed course calendars and content to ensure that the men who wanted to enlist would get proper training.

Eliminating Research

Across the country, the war claimed men. Over 8,000 students and 8% of male faculty left school. Many schools, including Clarkson, abolished non-teaching functions like research and student activity supervision. There were rumors that Clarkson might close, but President Ross laid those rumors to rest.

Post-War Duty: The GI Bill

In 1946, Gov. Dewey requested all colleges in New York state enroll twice as many students as previously. Soldiers were coming back from war with a GI Bill of Rights, which included money for education. Clarkson’s peak enrollment had been 644 students in 1942. In 1947, 1,500 students were enrolled: five veterans to every non-vet. To accommodate them, Clarkson rented buildings in Malone and sent all freshmen and sophomores there. Local villagers also offered room and board.

The Development of ROTC

In 1950, Clarkson began affiliation with the Signal Corps, which is responsible for the Army’s entire system of communications. In 1955, ROTC band was affiliated.

Industrial Engineering and Management

Academics, Research and Industry

While the war and depression disrupted Clarkson, they did not compromise its commitment to excellence and innovation in education.

As part of the war effort, Clarkson was asked to train students for industry. As well as technical skills, professionals in industry clearly needed to be able to understand technology, manufacturing and marketing. As a result, Clarkson created a new program combining engineering and business. The first iteration in 1930 was the industrial engineering program; the second iteration in 1954 was industrial distribution; the third was a doctorate offered in 1965 in industrial management. The latter program utilized Clarkson’s first computer, housed in the management simulation facility on the third floor of Snell Hall.

Niagara Mohawk

“NiMo” established a cooperative engineering program to encourage greater student interest in the utility industry. During the summer, it employed several students enrolled in the power engineering course sequence. This program expanded Clarkson’s electric power engineering program, and included research on “total-electric” design, power system stability and energy conversion.


The relationship between Clarkson and Alcoa had been strong over the years. Many of Alcoa’s Massena personnel took advantage of Clarkson’s evening classes, earning an advanced degree in industrial engineering.

Graduate Programs

  • 1916-37: One to four master’s degrees awarded per year.
  • 1938-48: Graduate work all but disappeared.
  • 1948: After much debate, all four engineering departments, as well as the chemistry and business administration departments, resumed graduate work. The resources needed to restart the graduate programs caused concern; however, there was also a need to retool engineering and science education because of the innovations that occurred during the war. A research program would be necessary to allow faculty to keep up with the changes and incorporate them into the undergraduate curriculum.
  • 1961: The first PhD programs were begun in chemistry and chemical engineering.
  • 1963: The first PhD was awarded to Adria Catala for her work in chemistry, even though women had not yet been officially admitted to Clarkson.

World Class Faculty

Milton Kerker, world renowned for his work on aerosols and light scattering, joined the faculty in 1949.
1963: The first PhD was awarded to Adria Catala for her work in chemistry, even though women had not yet been officially admitted to Clarkson.
Honors Societies Were Developed
  • 1925: Cum Laude Honor Society was formed, followed by six more societies.
  • 1929: Phalanx, Clarkson’s highest honor society, was formed.
  • 1931: AIChE, the American Institute of Chemical Engineering, admitted the Clarkson Chemical Club.
  • 1940: Delta Chi Sigma, a chemical/chemical engineering honorary fraternity
  • 1941: Tau Beta Pi
  • 1950: Pi Tau Sigma, a national mechanical engineering honorary fraternity
  • 1951: Chi Epsilon, a national civil engineering honorary fraternity
  • 1951: The first honorary degrees were authorized.

Student Competitions

  • 1934: Albert E. French won first prize for his paper submitted to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. It was the first paper submitted by a Clarkson student and was in competition against 200 papers from all other engineering colleges in the Northeast, including MIT, Yale, Cornell and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
  • 1941: Bruce Powell and Weller Piece became the first students from the same institution to win first and second prizes in the AIChE contest.

Ice Carnival

Began in 1931 to cheer everyone up during the Great Depression.

The Ice Carnival was the brainchild of Murray Walker of Weston Bookstore, “the Father of Clarkson Hockey,” and Eunice Badger, faculty member at Potsdam Normal. They hoped to promote joint activities and cheer everyone up. Unfortunately, the first year, 1930, they had to cancel due to warm weather. From 1931 until the 1960s, the Ice Carnival lived up to its purpose of uniting students, faculty and townspeople in braving the elements for art and fun. In the 1940s, with the construction of Walker Arena, it became more comfortable as some events could be held indoors. Trophies were added yearly for carvings and performances.

Other Winter Adventures

In January 1947, the worst snowstorm since 1900 delayed registration and school opening for two days. One train from New York City was stalled in Watertown for three days.

In 1950, the Outing Club created a small ski hill with a tow at the current location of Woodstock Village. Their headquarters was in the Clarkson Conservatory at the top of that hill.

The Great Sleigh Ride

In 1960, eight Techers took a 300-mile ride from Buffalo to Potsdam in conjunction with the Ice Carnival. Before you are thrilled at the thought of the amount of snow they must have had in those days, you should know that the sleigh and trusty steed O’Brien were loaded on a truck much of the way. The Techers faithfully rode in the sleigh, on the truck.

Rivalries and Pranks


Other Pranks

  • 1920: Techers snuck over to St. Lawrence University (SLU) and painted the fieldhouse green. SLU suspended all games with Clarkson.
  • 1926: One football game against SLU was particularly notable as Larries rode into Potsdam chanting their songs to rile up the Techers, who chased them back to Canton. Five miles out, both forces stopped for a ferocious vegetable lobbing fight. When Clarkson lost the game, Techers kept their vows and walked back to Potsdam.
  • 1930: SLU threatened to again suspend games with Clarkson unless the Techers quit coming to Canton to raid banners and otherwise misbehave.
  • 1937: SLU outmaneuvered the Clarkson guards and lit the bonfire prematurely, but Techers scrambled gallantly to rebuild it.
  • 1938: Clarkson and SLU student presidents worked to tamp down the rivalry so as to skirt suspension of games.
  • 1942: Although Clarkson beat SLU, for five months, the Larries didn’t return the Weston trophy, which had gone to the victor of the SLU-Clarkson championship football game since 1937.
  • 1950: The SLU-Clarkson rivalry was channeled into a new outlet: lawn displays. One display showed the “Tea Sippers” being dunked into a cup of tea.
  • 1952: A Clarkson student, Fox, who went to paint “Beat SLU” on the SLU campus, was surrounded by Larries. Rather than backing down, he escalated the confrontation by spraying them with paint.
  • 1922: Chemistry majors got a 5 1/2-foot-tall goat for the chemistry department. In lieu of a better name, she was called Rainbow, and in lieu of a better role, she went to help “buck the line” at the football game against SLU.
  • 1923: Joe Bushey first appeared. He was a mysterious student who was heard of, registered and almost sighted over the next 11 years. (See Ch. 8 for details.)
  • 1939: Students sawed through the chair legs of an unpopular civil engineering professor, so that when he tilted back, the chair collapsed. The next day he was showered by tin plates stashed above his door. In a chemistry class, students stuck a test tube of hydrogen sulfide gas in the pocket of their lab instructor. He accused them of stinking up the place until he finally realized it was him.
  • 1948: Two professors gave a prank lecture on “The Turbor-Incabulator” to the student AIChE meeting in Malone.
  • 1956: Pi Kappa Phi salvaged the bell from a burnt-out schoolhouse in Colton. They put it on a wagon and hauled it to all their events, but soon found that it caused so much excitement they wanted to share it. They put it on a sled for hockey games and the Ice Carnival. In 1967, they gave it a new home in Walker Arena, and in 1991, in Cheel. The bell has become part of Clarkson’s culture for commencement and convocation. The fraternity, now Delta Sigma Phi, still is responsible for ringing the bell at every hockey game.
  • Professional hockey player Ken Dryden, who had been all-American for Cornell, said the thing he had liked least about college hockey was “that damn bell at Clarkson.”

Rivalry and Community

While the rivalry with the Larries got rather extreme, it was no more so than the rivalry between the classes. In 1918, weekly convocations and Tech Nites had been suspended, but in 1923, they were brought back in a tamer fashion. Speeches and wrestling matches were held in the gym, so there would be “no carousing.”

In 1921, to avoid the sophomores, the freshmen held their banquet in the middle of the night at a lumber camp across the Raquette River. Although the sophomores captured two car loads of freshmen, they couldn’t find boats to make the crossing.

Because sophomore hazing of freshmen was getting out of hand, in 1921, the upperclassmen forced the sophomores to abandon paddling and formulated “Sophomore Rules,” such as tipping their hats to seniors and not being allowed to wear mustaches. The sophomores then helped write the “Freshmen Rules,” which included wearing hats in the summer and toques in the winter, and carrying matches for the use of upperclassmen. These “handbooks” remained unchanged until 1945, when they were summarily thrown out by GIs returning from war who had no interest in such “games.”

In 1933, a pushball game was inaugurated to replace the rushes. The first game wasn’t much safer, but further rule development made it so. Hazing was officially banned in 1962, thus retiring the green and gold beanie, as well as tear gas bombs. In 1966 the upperclass Dragon Squad
took up the job of building school spirit.

While the rivalries between the sophomores and freshmen and the Techers and Larries were aggressive, the relationship with Potsdam Normal was less so. The schools were across the street from each other, practically sharing a campus, until 1950, when Normal sold their buildings, Snell and Congdon halls, to Clarkson. The Normal female students often dated the Techers.

However, there were also epic snowball fights, and in 1963, the Golden Knight statue lost its head. It was recovered eventually, found cradled in Minerva’s arm on Normal’s new campus, further along Pierrepont Ave.



Football was the first sport at Clarkson and was beloved since it was coordinated with Homecoming. Rivalry with SLU was epic, as the winning team earned the Weston trophy. However, due to expenses, football was discontinued in 1952 and replaced the next year by soccer.


1921: Union College broadcast its football victory over Clarkson in wireless messages that reached California, Paris and New Orleans.

1931: Pete Dwyer became the athletic director and is considered responsible for improving the caliber of the sports teams and earning the respect of the big name colleges. He led the football team to a “glorious season” in 1932, and in 1933, he helped them break the eight-year jinx, finally beating SLU.


In 1943, the baseball record was 19-1. In 1951, the umpire ejected the Clarkson catcher for sarcasm. Coach Hodge threw bats and balls onto the field and charged the umpire. When the umpire wouldn’t back down, Hodge told his team to pick up their gear and walk off the field, forfeiting the game. While Clarkson did not play against Plattsburgh in any sport for three years, the two eventually competed in soccer, not baseball. Four Clarkson athletes signed with the Yankees: Pete Donald with the Yankee farm team, and Emerson “Steve” Roser, Ed Kinney and Jack Philips with the Yankees.


Jack Hantz

Hantz was on the athletic faculty for 32 years and brought soccer, lacrosse and wrestling to Clarkson. The lacrosse field was named in his honor. He was elected to NY State Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame in 1979.

Henry “Hank” Hodge

Hodge was inducted into the American Association of College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1971. Hodge was on the athletic faculty for 38 years coaching football, basketball and baseball. Sixteen of his players became professional athletes, and he was known as “Mr. Baseball of Northern New York,” as he had coached semi-pro and scouted.

Basketball began after the students raised funding to build the gymnasium. When Hodge was coaching basketball, the team was quite strong. It was only the second team in five years to beat Colgate on their home court. In 1954, Dick Pierce had the best outside shot ever.

Hockey: Outdoors

Hockey was officially established in 1921 under the guidance of the “Father of Clarkson Tech Hockey,” Murray Walker of Weston’s Bookstore. The first rink was built on the old playground of Public School Number 8 (behind the current Clarkson Hall). It had an area of 15,000 square feet, night-time lighting and a shack with a stove and benches for changing shoes and getting warm. Walker noted that making the ice was often a miserable all night job, even with the fire department’s hoses, so when possible, the Raquette River was used instead. The hockey coach was a professor of thermodynamics, so whenever it snowed overnight, he had his 8 a.m. class out shoveling the rink since snow was a “thermal subject.”

In 1931, a new rink was built at Ives Park. However, the ground sloped, so dragooned freshmen had to build up 13 inches of ice at one end before icing the rest. The next year, a better spot was found on the Clarkson estate where Walker Arena is now.

Potsdam villagers loved the hockey games. Bundled up, they huddled in the stands, and even perched in surrounding trees. One bitterly cold night in 1930, Doc Baldwin treated 20 frozen noses, 15 fingers, 33 ears and 14 toes. Not many colleges were playing hockey in the 1920s and 30s, so the team played mostly Northern New York and Vermont teams. A secret kept for 30 years was that in 1924, two Canadian pros joined the Tech team on the train to Vermont as ringers and helped Tech beat Burlington and Middlebury.

1935 was the big year for hockey at Clarkson: hockey became an actual part of the college’s athletic program, and the Techs became a team instead of a club. Also in 1935, they were crowned United States champions, with a record of 10-3. In the 1937-38 season, the Techs compiled a 13-1 record and were crowned United States intercollegiate champions.

In the early days, hockey didn’t require much special equipment. Newspapers stuffed in socks worked as shin guards, and heavy mittens served as gloves; goalies wore a few extra clothes, and every puck that skipped the boards was hunted out of the snow bank.

Hockey: Indoors

In 1937-38, the rink at Walker was covered, but was still subject to ambient temperature. On relatively warm days, fans were asked to wait outside until two minutes before game time. Artificial ice and the attendant refrigeration were put in 1952. Emeritus trustee Howard Lechler ’48 remembers one of his class projects was designing and building the “automatic” Zamboni door. In 1971, the arena was renovated with seating and heating for the fans, and in 1975, it was named for Murray Walker.

In 1956, the Clarkson team was undefeated, but a technicality made eight seniors ineligible for the NCAA championship competition, since they had played varsity as freshmen. In a show of loyalty, the team decided not to compete.

In 1966, Clarkson won its first ECAC Tournament championship.

Pep Band

In 1964, Director of Residence Donoghue suggested a Pep Band, and student Bill Rutherford put together a proposal, a band and a play list. President Whitson didn’t want to be outclassed by Ivy League schools, so he fully funded the request for instruments, uniforms (green blazers, skinny ties and straw hats) and travel.

Other Student…

Students Pitch In

  • 1923-27: Students labored to clear the stones from what was later called Snell Field. After several years of their manual labor, Bertrand Snell donated his construction equipment.
  • 1926: Electrical engineering students wired the gym so there would be light.
  • 1920s and 30s: Students worked on the hockey rinks.
  • 1946: Over 200 Clarkson students worked several evenings to clear out beaches at the new recreation park being created by the Rotary and Town of Malone.
  • 1949: Lambda Pi “adopted” two war orphans in Europe, sending them clothes and money.

Student Publications Were Prolific and Professional:

  • The Integrator, began in 1919, was discontinued during the war, then in 1954 won a national award.
  • The Clarksonian began in 1924.
  • The Green Griffin began as the Instigator in 1928.
  • In 1953, the Council on Student Organizations (COSO) formed as the umbrella of the many organizations on campus.
  • In 1950, the Golden Knight became the team name and mascot, based on a suggestion from Clarkson public relations to the student editors of The Integrator and Clarksonian. An Integrator article supporting the idea led to general acceptance. The bronze armor was a gift from the Class of 1959.

…and Alumni Activities

William Farrisee aka Mr. Clarkson

“Mr. Clarkson”

William Farrisee earned the nickname “Mr. Clarkson” due to his ardent support of student and alumni activities. He joined the Clarkson civil engineering faculty in 1922, and also spent 12 years with the Melody Boys, playing for dances throughout the North Country.

He got his MS at Clarkson in 1932. He became dean of students in 1946, during which time he sponsored Phalanx, the Varsity “C” Club, the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Tau Beta Pi, Pi Delta Epsilon and Lambda Iota. He attended every Clarkson home athletic event and was an ardent fan.

In 1944, he became the first executive secretary of the newly reorganized Clarkson Tech Alumni Association and established and edited the Clarkson Alumnus magazine. The first issue listed the Clarkson men killed in the war and printed letters from alumni on active duty.

Alumni Events

Two banquets per year, one in Potsdam and one in New York City, were established in 1914 and have more or less continued.
At some point, a Spring Alumni Weekend was introduced. In 1968, this weekend hosted the Alumni College — faculty lectures to engage alumni intellectual interests.

WWI Veterans’ Plaque

This plaque was given by the Alumni Association and placed in Old Main lobby in 1920 to commemorate the more than 300 Clarkson men who had served their country, some of whom returned and some of whom did not.

The Alumni War Memorial Gym and Plaque

The trustees launched a fundraising campaign in 1945 for building on the Hill Estate. The Alumni Association petitioned the board to be given the responsibility for the War Memorial Gym at an estimated cost of $280,000. The gym houses a bronze plaque listing the names of the 41 Clarkson men who died in World War II.

The Alumni War Memorial Gym was the first new building on the Hill Campus.

Women Return to Clarkson

In 1963, Clarkson awarded its first PhD to a woman, Adria Catala, in chemistry, even though women were not formally admitted to the college until 1964. Also in 1963, the first female undergraduate, Norma Wagner, was accepted as a transfer student, a test case of sorts. The next year, nine women entered Clarkson in the first-year class. The decision to officially recruit and admit women brought reporters from The New York Times and Time magazine to Potsdam. The campus treated these women like fainting violets or invasive species, giving them “Big Brother” escorts, a house mother and earlier curfews. One student reported her discomfort with all the bathrooms, which were lined with urinals, and two of the women left after the first semester. Tensions began to ease, however, and the remaining women fully participated in the social and intellectual life of Clarkson, graduating and going on to successful careers.

In 1966, Holcroft House was remodeled to serve as the women’s dormitory, which it did until 1979. Holcroft House, named for Elizabeth Holcroft (who had royal connections and was the mother of one of the original Clarksons) was designed and built by the first Potsdam Clarkson in 1822. Annie and Emilie Clarkson’s family occupied the house at the end of the 19th century. In 1940, Emilie had it refurbished to serve as co-op housing for male students. Later, it served as housing for visiting athletic teams, was an infirmary and even was the haunting ground of a ghost.

Clarkson Philanthropy

From 1909, when the Homestead burned, until 1922, the Clarksons were not often in Potsdam. In 1922, when Emilie Vallette Clarkson Moore became a widow, she took up full-time residence in Potsdam and a more active interest in philanthropy for the village and college. After purchasing the land, she created Ives Park, which was used first as a hockey rink and now houses The Clarkson Inn. She also anonymously supported students who were having trouble making ends meet. In 1923, Annie Clarkson donated land for a sports field, now Snell field on Highway 11. The Clarkson family were the main contributors to the school’s $300,000 endowment.

The largest gift of the Clarkson women was their final one. When Lavinia died in 1926, Annie was her primary beneficiary. Annie crafted an estate plan so that upon her death, the Clarkson land, combined with her own land around Holcroft House, would be given to Clarkson College. Annie’s sister, Emilie, would have the use of all monies in trust until her death, when it would be given outright to the college. When Annie died in 1929, Emilie renounced her claim to allow the monies to go directly to the college.

Unfortunately, the financial crash devalued the million dollars to only $600,000 and the college’s planned move to the Hill Campus was delayed indefinitely. Although Clarkson College held the land, there was no money to develop the infrastructure. Instead, incrementally, they took over the current buildings after Emilie paid for the remodeling.

  • 1931: An outdoor ice rink was built where Walker Arena is now.
  • 1935: Woodstock Lodge was remodeled as a student residence.
  • 1938: The conservatory located near Woodstock overlooking the ski hill was given to the Outing Club. The barns were used for ROTC and the Potsdam Gun Club as a rifle range, and by the mechanical engineering department to store engines. The barns burned in 1940, but the conservatory remained until it was demolished for new buildings in the 1960s.
  • 1940: Holcroft was remodeled for use as student co-op housing.

The Clarkson Relations

Elizabeth died in 1918 and was replaced on the Board of Trustees by her cousin Banyer Clarkson, who served from 1918 to 1928. Another cousin, David A., was thanked for his work for the college in the 1940 yearbook.

Banyer Clarkson
Banyer Clarkson
David Clarkson
David Clarkson

A New Era of Clarkson Stewardship

Emilie remained interested in Clarkson until her death in 1944. However, she seems to have lost touch with her relatives.

Instead, in 1942, a Manhattan branch of the family was independently approached by a Clarkson alum. The story as told by Barney Clarkson goes as follows:

One day in the early 1940s, a young man ventured into the office of the chair of American Express in Manhattan and asked to meet the chair. This man had brought no letter of introduction, so the chair, Mr. Robert Livingston Clarkson, had no interest in seeing him. The young man, Revis Stephenson, came to wait a second day and a third. On the third day he lost his temper. “Miss Morrill,” he said to the secretary, “Tell him I’m going to sit here till he sees me!” So Clarkson poked his head around the door to catch a glimpse of this fellow.

Apparently, he liked what he saw as he invited him in. In fact, they eventually became friends and even went into business together — a business they hoped to develop for their sons. The young man was there to persuade a member of the Clarkson family to join the Board of Trustees of Clarkson College of Technology. Stephenson himself was a 1934 graduate of one of the small classes and had loved his time there. Robert Clarkson had never heard of the College nor of the Potsdam Clarksons, but he allowed Revis to persuade him to make a trip to rural upstate New York to see it. Clarkson loved what he saw in Potsdam and agreed to join the Board of Trustees in 1942. He served till 1967 when he became too ill. Stephenson also served on the board for various terms between 1955 and 1974.

Robert Clarkson
Robert Clarkson

Robert Livingston Clarkson

Robert Livingston Clarkson was a direct descendent of Gen. Matthew Clarkson, Revolutionary War hero, president of the Bank of New York and philanthropist, and of Robert Livingston, the first chancellor of New York and one of the Committee of Five who drafted the Declaration of Independence. Gen. Matthew was Robert’s great-great grandfather and Annie and Emilie’s great-grandfather. Although he never visited Potsdam, he was one of the original owners of the town, purchased in 1802 by Clarkson relatives. He was a friend of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay and a business partner of John Vanderbilt.
The Clarkson family owned portraits of both Matthew Clarkson and George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart. Robert L. Clarkson gifted the Washington portrait to Clarkson College in memory of his second son’s death. Copies of the portraits of Matthew Clarkson and of a Turnbull painting depicting the surrender of General Burgoyne and featuring Matthew are on campus.

Robert’s first son, Robert Clarkson Jr., also served as a Trustee from 1955-66 until his untimely death. Robert’s other son, Bayard “Barney” Delaford Clarkson, then took up the responsibility in 1967.

Other Leadership

A significant honor was conferred on Clarkson when its president James S. Thomas (1934-40) was selected as director of the Chrysler Engineering Institute. Thomas had gained wide fame as an outstanding educator, possessing a keen mind and educational foresight. He conducted a speaking tour around the Eastern and Midwestern part of the country and nearby Canada and was known as the “Great Educator.” After he left Clarkson, he was called to Washington D.C. in 1942 to become a training specialist for the War Board.

Bertrand H. Snell, Trustee from 1911-58, was born in Colton, New York. He developed the Racquette River Paper Co. (with the Sissons) and the Snell Power Company, which produced hydroelectric power at Higley Falls, was president and manager of the Phoenix Cheese Company in New York City and was active in politics, representing the 31st district of New York for 24 years. He was also instrumental in getting the St. Lawrence Seaway built. Moreover, he generously donated to Clarkson College, contributing $150,000 to the endowment in the 1945 campaign, $40,000 to develop Snell Field, $150,000 to purchase Snell Hall and $100, 000 to Clarkson in his will. His daughters, Helen Snell Cheel and Sara Snell Petersen, carried on his generous involvement with the school. During the college’s 50th anniversary, Snell was instrumental in bringing former United States President Herbert Hoover to the celebration.

Other important leaders from this time are memorialized in building names on campus or road names in the village. These include:

Ralph Damon, president of American Airlines, drafted by the federal government during WWII to start Republic Airlines
Rufus Sisson Sr., Walter Sisson and Rufus Sisson Jr., local businessmen in lumber and paper. Two of their large homes are now owned by Clarkson fraternities.
Harry and James Lewis, benefactors of Lewis House, built as a student center and dining hall
W. Allan Newell for whom a dormitory is named

John Ross Jr., 1940-47
John Brooks, 1911-28 and 1932-33
William Van Note 1951-63

Committing to Expanding the Campus Downtown

Aerial view of downtown campus
Aerial view of the Downtown Campus

By the end of WWI, the Downtown Campus consisted of repurposed houses and local buildings, like Schoolhouse #8, with only Old Main, the Gymnasium and Sutherland Hall specifically designed and built for their purposes. The trustees hoped to move the campus to the Hill Estate, but those hopes were dashed during the Great Depression. Then in 1945, Potsdam Normal School offered Clarkson a deal that was impossible to pass up. They were moving to their new site further down on Pierrepont Avenue. They offered Clarkson the right to the land on the corner of Main and Park streets for $1 and the building for $150,000. Trustee Bertrand Snell put up the money for the purchase, and so the building was named after him. After the purchase of Snell Hall, the trustees committed to funding the development of the Downtown Campus.

In 1961, Clarkson Hall was built to house civil and environmental engineering on the first floor, electrical engineering on the second floor and chemistry on the third floor. It was named for Robert Livingston Clarkson and replaced Schoolhouse #8.

In 1955, the old Gymnasium became Burnap Library once the new gymnasium opened on the Hill Campus. Burnap, a cousin of Trustee Allen Newell, had been persuaded to fund the renovation of the building.

In 1948, Peyton Hall was built to house the library (third floor) and chemical engineering, as well as some civil and mechanical engineering classes. It was named for the chairman of the board of the New York Air Brake Co., whose relative was a trustee and gave “The Lever to Move the World” for the Old Main pedestal in 1941.

In 1949 Damon Hall was built for the physics department, where it housed a nuclear reactor. It was named for Trustee Ralph Damon, president of American Airlines. Damon Airfield was purchased, donated and named in his honor by Republic Aviation Corp. in 1944 in appreciation of his service. Damon was drafted by the government to work with Republic during the war. The airfield was important for the proto-aeronautical engineering program.

Asleep on the Hill

In 1950-55, the first new building raised on the Hill Campus was the Alumni Memorial Gym, adjacent to Snell Field. The buildings on the hill at that time included Holcroft House, Woodstock Lodge, the conservatory (the barns had burned in 1940) and military Quonset huts.

After the war, surplus military housing was placed along the Raquette River and Baghdad Road. Many of the GIs were married, so Vets Village soon earned the names Diaper Hill and Snoopy Lane. In 1953, the first new dorms were constructed at the foot of the hill, and thusly called The Pit.
In the late 1950s, more vigorous dormitory construction began on the Hill Campus: Dorms #5 and 6 in 1956; the Quad in 1958; Moore House in 1962; and Woodstock Village in 1966, constructed for married students. These new dorms became the nexus of school spirit. Yearbooks listed all the residents in each dorm until 2009. Because student housing was shifting to the Hill, in 1968, Woodstock Lodge became the new student center.

Dorms # 5 &6 were designed with a central structure for use as the kitchen, dining hall and lounge.

Dorms were named years after the buildings were completed:

Brooks — President
Cubley — Trustee from Potsdam
Donahue — Dean of Students
Farrisee — Faculty
Graham — President
Hamlin — Faculty
Moore — Emilie Vallette Clarkson Moore
Newell — Trustee from Ogdensburg
Olsen — Trustee
Ormsby — Faculty
Powers — Faculty
Price — Potential donor
Reynolds — Faculty
Ross — President
Van Note — President
Wilson — Faculty


Students living on the Hill needed to make their way downtown for classes. On snowy, slippery days, they grabbed a ride with passing cars, using the bumper like a tow: Ski + Hitching = Skitching