CASTLETON — This year Castleton State College is celebrating its 225th anniversary. To commemorate the event, the college has produced a comprehensive historical account of the college’s experience starting in 1787.
“No definite chronological has ever been written,” said college President David Wolk before the final product was unveiled Friday. “We thought of the usual celebration but I wanted it to be more intellectual.”
“A Big Heart: The Journey to Castleton’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Birthday” is a 321-page anthology that chronicles Castleton’s transformation from the Rutland County Grammar School to the institution of higher education that it is today. It will be available for purchase at the college’s bookstore.
“It’s a celebration that can only serve as a catalyst for the future,” Wolk said. “This is exactly what we wanted it to be.”
Tony Peffer, academic dean at Castleton and the book’s editor, described the book in the preface as an “anthology of distinct chapters, each written by a separate author.”
“Rather than restrict our authors to a particular stylistic convention or method of storytelling, we have afforded them the freedom to craft narrative within only a few broad structural parameters,” he continued.
Tasked with writing the book’s seven chapters were Ron Powers, Writer in Residence at CSC; former director of communications Ennis Duling; former professor of writing and photography Marjorie Ryerson; associate professor of history Andre Fleche; former editor of Newsday Anthony Marro; professor of English Chris Boettcher and professor of writing Burnham Holmes.
“We wanted writers (who are) the best in their craft, but we wanted them to have big hearts and they do,” Wolk said.
At an informal panel discussion introducing the book Friday afternoon, the authors had the chance to highlight some of the more interesting facts they uncovered while researching the college.
Powers, who was unable to attend the event, was tasked with the college’s first century as the Grammar School. Speaking in his place, Peffer said some of the things uncovered by Powers was the college’s connection and contrast to Middlebury College, the collaboration with the town and the role of women.
“When the Grammar School was created there was a vision for something bigger,” Peffer said.
Duling, who focused on the period of 1867 to 1920 when it was named the State Normal School of Castleton, said at that time in history, the college was a convenient compromise for college that featured mostly young women studying to be teachers.
While researching the third chapter of the book, Ryerson said she found the individuals that fought to reopen the college after it closed its doors in 1920. She said it was people like former Principal Caroline Woodruff who worked during “a time of enormous struggle.”
“It was a time of individuals carrying tremendous force to keep the institution open,” she said. “It took a lot of digging and that was part of the fascination.”
Fleche said his time period, 1940-1957, was a moment of transition for the college at a time when normal schools were becoming old-fashioned and outdated. World War II also did not help with dwindling enrollment.
“Castleton had to reinvent itself as a college,” he said.
This led to the Richard Dundas era, in which the college at one point was described as “an elementary school with bigger students,” said Marro, who wrote the chapter. “By the time he left, the school had been completely transformed.”
Boettcher and Holmes worked on the book’s last two chapters, which focused on the last 40 years. Both said they had an abundance of history and archives to work from, explaining how the college became what it is today.
“I learned that there is a lot to write about,” Holmes said. “It was hard to stop.”
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