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Mount Vernon's man of destiny, George B. Bowman, arrived in 1850, when the village consisted of a few cabins and two or three general stores.
He was tall and spare, bronzed by the sun and hardened by the snows of winter from his horseback rides on the prairies. He was reserve, but full of faith and resourcefulness. "If God wills, it CAN and MUST be done," was the motto of his life.
He felt the need of Christian education for his children, for the children of other pastors, and for the community around. He rode the hilltop and as he rode a vision allured him.
Surely God had created the hilltop for such an hour as this. The voice of God was calling him, he felt, to build a college here.
Isaac Julien, living five miles west had purchased the land on top of the hill for a permanent home site. Bowman persuaded him with earnest reasoning of the value of a school and the honor of association with it. Julien sold him the ten acres on the hilltop at half price.
Jesse Holman went out and raised $100.00 in pledges to found a new seminary. A meeting of the church and interested friends was held and the matter was decided. Bowman was to be the president of the Board of Trustees; Waln the Secretary; Holman, Hayzlett and Willits, the lay members ; Pastors H.W. Reed, Twining, and Joel Taylor were chosen as the clerical members of the Board. The institution would be known as "The Iowa Conference Male and Female Seminary."
Ground was broken for the new building, which was 40 by 72 feet on July 4, 1852. Richard Harbert and Henry Albright were the carpenters and masons. Everyone who could spare the time for labor willingly donated it.
On horseback Elder Bowman traveled to Mount Morris, Illinois and persuaded
Rev. S. M. Fellows to accept the principalship. Fellows brought with him Prof. David Wheeler, a teacher and silver-tongued orator, who taught both science and language. Mrs. Catherine Fortner was the able preceptress and Samuel Fellows taught ethics and religion, Miss Olive Fellows was the teacher of instrumental music and Miss Sarah Mason was a general assistant. The first catalogue was issued in 1854 and contained sixteen pages.
November 14, 1853, 57 girls and 104 boys marched up Main Street, while the townspeople flocked to doors and windows to watch the event. They went up the hill to the unfinished building and began regular classes.The chapel and recitation hall were on the main floor, the ladies dormitory on the second floor, and the men's dormitory on the third floor. Kitchen and dining hall were in the rear of the building.
The program of study was extensive, emphasizing particularly the study of Greek, Latin and Ethics.
Then came the program of exercises at the end of the school year on June 24, 1854, with three days devoted to the occasion and with all the examinations open to the public. Part of the last day's program follows:

Thursday June 24, 1854
Ladies Essays
Hope----------------------------------Martha Bell
Rural Felicity------------------------Adeline Holman
Who are Happy?------------------------Martha Kaufman
The New-------------------------------Ruana Neidig
"Thy will be done"--------------------Mary Hubbard

Gentlemen Declamations
The Pioneer Preacher-----------------George P. Holman
Labor--------------------------------George W. Osburn
Railroads----------------------------John Wilson
Man----------------------------------Leroy Weeks
Valedictory--------------------------Leonard Foster

Band music was interspersed, and a stirring address was given by Principal Fellows. During that first year , out of 161 students, there were only three who did not make a profession of religion.
The tuition for eleven weeks was $4.00, and the board was $1.50 a week.

The "Twelve Restrictive Rules" adopted at a somewhat later period for the government of student conduct constitute and ancient tradition of Cornell and are her summarized:
1. Rise 5 A.M> Retire at 10 P.M.
2. Attend prayers in the chapel daily.
3. Punctuality.
4. No visiting during study hours.
5. Not to leave town without permission.
6. Hallooing, running, jumping forbidden.
7. Profane and obscene language forbidden.
8. No balls, dancing parties, nor circus.
9. No ladies to receive calls from gentlemen without permission.
10.No Gentlemen to receive calls from ladies.
11.Must attend Sabbath worship.
12.Walking together and conversing together, men and women, on the campus was forbidden without special permission.
The last was the famous "Rule Twelve" which the boys meticulously observed by placing a six foot stick between the couple walking together.
The Seminary grew so fast that a new building soon became imperative. On July 4, 1856 the cornerstone of Main Hall was laid.
In the mean time the Board of Trustees decided to enlarge the scope of the work of the Seminary and change it to a college patterned after eastern institutions. It was voted to change the name to Cornell College in honor of W.W. Cornell of New York State who had given a small amount, and who, it was hoped would endow it generously. He did not.He instead created a land grant college in Ithaca New York, which institution thus became a younger sister of Cornell. In 1855 the Upper Iowa Conference at Maquoketa adopted Cornell College as its institution of learning and the pledging thereto of its faithful support.

In 1857 Miss Fortner resigned as Preceptress, to marry a young pastor Rufus Ricker. Miss Harriette Cooke, was secured to fill her place, and remained with the college until 1890 becoming the first full time woman professor west of the Mississippi. The college honored her in 1944 as one of the "Founders" of Cornell.
Old Sem cost $15,000.00 and Main $56,000.00. Next year in 1858, Elder Bowman retired from the college agency on account of his health and went to California to enter business. His gift to the Chapel at Cornell is enshrined in that west window where are to be found the names of his family whom death had already claimed. The lovely inscriptions " The Righteous shall flourish as the palm tree" and " The workman fails but the work goes on" are fitting words for so worthy a character. Many of the buildings of the town have borne the stamp of his planning and execution: the first church, the first parsonage, Guild Hall, "Old Sim", and Main Hall. He lived to see his vision fulfilled. We have seen it grow beyond his fondest expectations.