The York Academy.
In the fall of 1871, C.
S. Harrison of Eastville, Illinois was asked by Geo. Harris, land
commissioner, of the B. & M. R. L. to take charge of a colony
to be located in York, Nebraska with F. A. Bidwell land agent. He
first came to view the situation in Sept. 1871. There were then
but six buildings, and those on a very small scale, one being a
sod house. At this time there was not a tree, shrub or flower on
the whole townsite. It was simply a dry, dreary, monotinous (sic)
prairie. The grass was short and the country had a parched and
He told the commissioner that if he took charge of a colony he must have a nucleus around which to build it. So the commisioner (sic) asked him what he wanted. He told him that he wanted forty acres of land deeded to the congregational church for an Academy and wanted it joining town on the west side. The forty acres were received without the cost of a dollar and deeded to the Congregational Church, when it was organized. Then circulars were put out calling attention to the "Mayflower Colony" with a New England Academy attachment, and that began to draw the people 'till by such advertising about six hundred people came to York County. It brought in a better class of people than the other towns secured. This due to the fact that church and school was the watchword instead of saloons and gambling dens.
The next thing to be done was to make the land available. So Mr. Harrison and Bidwell bought lots on the west side of town and when other people came in they commenced to settle near the Academy land. G. P. Chessman came soon after and also built in that locality.
When an impetus was given in that direction then it was thought best to sell thirty acres of the land and put up the building from the proceeds, retaining ten acres for the campus. To Mr. Chessman and Henry Seymour, the com-
munity, was largely indebted for the success of the enterprise.
Sufficient land was sold to commence the building of a two story
building 30x50 with an addition for entrance and bell tower. It
was in the awful year of the grasshopper scourge, but the noble
building went up like a great hope, rising out of despair. For the
times it was a large building. The lumber was hauled from Fairmont
as there was no railroad in those days. As it was to be a
Congregational School the advisability of opening it was brought
before the Blue Valley Association, and a committee of three
brought in a report against opening it, as it was too near Doane
College. Sentiment has changed since then, Doane College realizes
the need of Academies as feeders, there are now four of these in
the state sending students to Doane.
In the meantime however the building was not idle. For some time it was given to the public school, as it had rooms adapted for their work. Not long after its erection the M. E. Conference located their state college in York and the doors of the Academy were cordially thrown open to them. In the meantime it was used as a Congregational Church.
The new college drew in many excellent and influential people, so that the character of the city was largely moulded (sic) by educational and religious influence. It was on account of the character of the community, the absence of saloons, and the interest of the people in educational matters, that brought our present college, which is in a flourishing condition, bidding fair to be among the first in the state. After the building had faithfully served the public in time of need, it was sold and the proceeds went towards the erection of the present beautiful Congregational Church.
Mr. Harrison belongs to a
class of Congregational pioneers whose like we shall not see after
this generation passes. Born in Otsego Co., N. Y., in 1832, son of
a minister, he came to Illinois in 1844 with his parents and
worked on a farm until he was twenty. Then he prepared for college
in Chicago and afterwards studied in Beloit, working his own
In 1857 he began preaching at Paynesville, Minn. Later he preached at Sauk Center, at which place, as also at Alexandria, at York, Neb., and at several other places, he preached the first sermon. In Minnesota he had many rough experiences. The first two years he had no salary. One cold winter night he was lost on the prairie and came near perishing. Once in crossing a swollen stream his horse sank and rose three times under him and its rider barely escaped drowning. Once for a long time he had nothing to eat but potatoes and tallow. He often saw Indian war parties with scalps of enemies. One band of a thousand camped near him, which two years later murdered so many in the great massacre.
He was ordained and married in 1859. He afterward preached at Huntley, Ill., where there was a great revival during his ministry. He preached also at Tipton, Ia., at Earlville, Ill., and at York, Neb., where he brought a large colony from Illinois, and where he was the leader in making York and York County free from saloons to this day. As a temperance worker his life has often been threatened.
In 1881 he went to Pueblo, Col., where in three years he built three churches. Then from 1884 to 1892 he preached at Franklin, Neb., where he had previously started Franklin Academy, and for which he raised much money. There and elsewhere he has passed through thirty revivals, gathering hundreds into the churches. After his plea for academies in Boston in 1891 the Education Society adopted the Academy work and appointed Mr. Harrison as academy secretary, which position he held two years.
Since January, 1894, he has been pastor at
Weeping Water, Neb., where he has worked for the academy at that
place and nearly freed the church of its great debt of $10,000. In
1895 a revival brought over one hundred into the church. Mr.
Harrison has built sixteen churches, all free from debt. He put
$1,000 of his own money into one church and from a meagre salary
has given thousands to education, besides getting others to give
His recreation hobby has been horticulture, on which he has given many lectures and addresses, written many articles, and published two books. The United States government has recognized and used his successful work in raising mountain evergreens under the one hundredth meridian. Many prairie towns are beautiful with trees to-day because of his work and influence; notably, so is York, Neb.
This pioneer missionary, evangelist, church builder, academy founder, temperance reformer, lecturer, author, secretary and horticulturist is still an eloquent and vigorous speaker and is yet good for many years' work.