Days Gone By - stories from the past

A wonderful description from 1859 of the first building on Auburn University’s campus


Correspondence of the Republican

Written 1859

Published in The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 02, Summer Issue 1956.

Mr. Sayre:

Business called me to our neighboring village of Auburn, a few days ago, when I saw something worthy of brief mention. Knowing the interest which you have ever taken in whatever relates to the growth, improvement, or prosperity of our section, and more especially of our country, I am inclined to send you a few hurried notes of my visit.

Most conspicuous object

To the eye of the visitor, approaching Auburn from any quarter, the most conspicuous object of attention is the new Methodist Male College. Your readers are too well advised of the origin, purpose, and history of this noble Institution to render any reference to those points necessary. – -Unless they have seen, however, the magnificent pile which the friends of this enterprise have erected, upon one of the most eligible sites in the town, they can form but an inadequate idea of the comprehensive policy which planned, or the enlightened liberality which has thus far carried forward this commendable undertaking. I am not acquainted with the technics of architectural science and can not, therefore, give you the order to which the buildings belong, or the style which has prevailed in its details.

1883 photograph of first building on Auburn’s Campus built in 1857 – burned in 1887 (Auburn University digital)

Three stories high

To my uninstructed eye it bears an imposing aspect. It is three stories high above the basement, with a noble portico in front, flanked by rectangular towers which rise above the elevation of the main edifice. The building is of brick—plain, unstuccoed front. Especial care has been devoted to the symmetrical adjustment and proportion of the windows. The principal doorway will be finished in an elaborate style. Of the internal arrangements I find more difficulty in speaking. I did not examine the interior during my late visit. At the period of my former inspection, the exterior only was in any considerable state of forwardness.

I received assurances, however, of many competent Judges, who pronounce the projected arrangement of the Recitation and Lecture Rooms, the Halls, Library, Chapel, and Laboratories to be of the most appropriate description. Of one thing I felt confident, while looking at the building, that it is, in every respect a monument worthy of the generous liberality of the Methodists of East Alabama, and it promises to be an Institution of which every enlightened citizen may well feel proud.

Expected to open October 1859

You have, on a former occasion, published the names of the Faculty. Dr. Sassnet is the President, a gentleman of wide reputation as a profound thinker, popular speaker, and an effective writer. He had, but a few days previously to my visit, purchased a place of residence in Auburn. The exercises of the Institution are expected to open October 1859, with very flattering promises of remunerative patronage. That the College will receive a creditable (sic) support from the outset seems probable, from the large and growing attendance of pupils upon the excellent preparatory school of Mr. W. F. Slaton.

We were pleased to learn while in Auburn, that the Female College there is in a very flourishing condition under the efficient management of the Rev. Mr. Pitts. The number of young ladies is encouraging, indicative of the disposition of the town to maintain an Institution of superior grade.

Auburn is now the residence, as you know, of Col. Samford, while editor of the Signal. By a card in the last issue of that Journal we are informed of the Colonel’s retirement from the grave responsibilities of the leading editorship. He has fallen back into the less prominent position of occasional contributor. Even this slender connection with the Signal will doubtless continue to give importance to the political utterances of that sheet in the approaching campaign.

Chemical Laboratory of Prof. Darby

The prospective opening of the Male College is beginning to lend vitality to the landed and mercantile interests of Auburn. I saw a large boarding house or hotel in course of erection, while I learned that there was not an eligible house in the place that was unoccupied. Real estate is held at higher figures, but still at rates that are moderate enough.

One of the most interesting objects of visit in Auburn is the Chemical Laboratory of Prof. John Darby, in which he manufactures his popular Prophylatic (sic) Fluid. Upon invitation of Mr. W. H. C. Price, who is also one of the Proprietors, I visited and inspected the Laboratory. Prof. Darby, himself, I learned, is now in New York to attend the session of the National Quarantine Convention, which is to meet there in the latter part of this month. I was much surprised and gratified to see the extent to which the proprietors have been successful in introducing their excellent preperations. (sic) Their manufacturing arrangements are of a superior kind. There I saw large leaden retorts (?) in which the primary chemical operations are conducted. There was a net work of leaden pipes, crooked, contorted, concoluted; (?) there was a mill in which to reduce some of the ingredients to powder; there were barrels of crude materials ranged in lusty rows; there were huge glass carboys filled with the Fluid in every stage of its progress, from the clear, colorless liquid as it pours from the hissing retorts, to the deeper and more decided tinge which it receives as it advances to completion; there were gallons of the pure, perfected glowingly purple Fluid ready to bottle and dispatch. Ascending to the second story I saw boxes piled on boxes, filled with bottles still unpacked from the northern manufactories. On tables ranged round the room were hundreds of bottles all corked, standing like well trained soldiers in battle array—waiting to receive the seal, the label, and the wrapper. Descending again, I looked into a side room, into which they were just tumbling the contents of three large boxes of printed matter just received from the press—comprising tens of thousands of pamphlets, bills, posters, fly sheets, envelopes, labels, and wrappers. While there, too, I saw a bag of corks—enough I was told to stop the mouths of from thirty to forty thousand bottles of the Prophylatic. (sic) In one of these rooms the carpenter’s hammer and saw and plane are busy fashioning, out of our native pine, hundreds of boxes in which to pack and transport the Fluid. But I must omit many things of interest which I there saw, as the systematic arrangements for filing papers, taking care of letters, registering advertisements, noting orders and keeping accounts with hundreds of druggists, merchants, and editors. ; Indeed just here in our midst, and that within a few months there has sprung up a business which seems destined to become one of the most extensive manufacturing interest of the southern country. It is home labor, and deserves home patronage.

But I must bring my desultory sheet to a close. Wishing our neighboring town success in all her enterprises and thanking you tor your patient hearing of my hastily spun yarn. I am, Y’rs, &c., Rambler. (Tuskegee Republican, April 17, 1859, Tuskegee, Alabama.)

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Statehood: Lost & Forgotten Stories presents the times and conditions pioneers faced in lost & forgotten stories such as:

  • Who Controlled And Organized The New State of Alabama?
  • Tuscaloosa Had Three Other Names
  • Chandelier Falls & Capitol Burns
  • Alabama Throws Parties For General LaFayette
  • Francis Scott Key Was Sent to Alabama To Solve Problems


About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. Awesome Pictures Thanks

  2. I was reading some of the 1900 Auburn newspapers a while back. Around that time the populations of Auburn were about equal to Camp Hill and Dadeville, all of them much larger than Alexander City, which was just a bump in the road before the mill was built.

  3. I sent you quite an email earlier today about the Reeses in Auburn. Both my Mother, Father, and Grandfather are buried in Pind Hill Cemetery in a plot that I think was owned by Mary Reese the author. I have her book and was delighted to read about the history of the Reese Family there… And I believe that there is a Reese Street just south of the old KA house and that bricks used for the original Presbyterian chapel were fired on the Reese Plantation.

    how many wonderful memories I have of having been the daughter of an Auburn
    Graduated, and an Auburn Graduate myself, and a place I called the family Home of my widowed Grandmother.

    If you ever decide to do research on Lowndesboro please let me hear. both my Grandmothers were born in Lowndesboro and I currently live in here.

  4. Auburn Football is just around the corner..YEH

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