The History of Lycoming College

Lycoming College celebrated its bicentennial in 2012. It is one of the 50 oldest institutions of higher education in the United States and the oldest to retain a relationship with the United Methodist Church. It has been on several major frontiers of American education with its leaders determined to seek ways to enhance educational opportunities for their students.

It began in 1812 as an academy, which was a new kind of school where students could build on their common school education and better prepare for college. Eight local citizens founded the Williamsport Academy as a school for young men. It began to enroll young women in the 1830s. The focus of its mission was the teaching of the liberal arts and sciences, a commitment that has never changed.

A group of Methodists purchased the academy in 1848 and organized the Williamsport Dickinson Seminary. The Rev. Benjamin H. Crever had the vision to transform the academy into a seminary, a school with a religious mission, which included preparing young men for the Christian ministry. It included children from first grade through college preparatory work and was co-educational. Crever is considered the founder of Lycoming College.

The seminary built a large educational center in 1856, which in time became Old Main. The school was never owned by the Methodist Church, but by a group of independent stockholders. In 1869, they sold their stock to the Preachers’ Aid Society of the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Church, which owned the school until 1970 when it gave the stock to the board of directors.

The program of the seminary expanded steadily. The Rev. Edward J. Gray presided over the school from 1874-1905. He launched new programs in music and art, hired many new faculty members, and built Bradley Hall in 1896. He also encouraged students to undertake many new activities, including student publications and athletics.

The Rev. John W. Long became president in 1921 and led the school to two additional frontiers in American higher education. In 1929, Dickinson Seminary added to its program and also became Dickinson Junior College, the first private junior college in Pennsylvania. In 1947, Long transformed the seminary and junior college into Lycoming College, a four-year institution with a definite focus on the liberal arts and sciences.

Lycoming has experienced two periods of dramatic growth. The first was from 1955-68 under the leadership of President D. Frederick Wertz. The college developed a strong curriculum and faculty, built an attractive campus around a central quadrangle and joined the National Collegiate Athletic Association at the Division III level. The second period began with the arrival of President James E. Douthat in 1989. The college revised its curriculum and improved its program so that in 2000 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classified Lycoming as a national liberal arts institution.

The college has entered a new stage in its development with the arrival of President Kent C. Trachte, Ph.D., whose term began in July 2013. The theme of Lycoming's history has been steady advancement across various frontiers of American higher education and continuous striving for excellence in the college's curriculum, its faculty and its physical plant. The future appears bright for an even Greater Lycoming.