Centenary University Student Recognized with Prestigious History Award from the New Jersey Historical Commission

Centenary University senior Sean Graham has been selected as a recipient of the Paul A. Stellhorn Undergraduate Paper in History Award, an annual award presented by the New Jersey Historical Commission. A resident of Washington Township in Warren County, Graham was recognized for his honors capstone project, entitled “The Origins of Centenary Collegiate Institute: A Story of Industrialization, Wealth, and Natural Resources.” Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary Collegiate Institute (CCI) was a precursor to Centenary University, a degree-granting institution in northwestern New Jersey that offers academic programs on the doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, and associate levels. 

As a Stellhorn Award recipient, Graham is in prestigious company: last year’s winners were students from Princeton and Harvard universities. “When I saw that, I was shocked,” said Graham, an education major with a concentration in social studies who plans to become a history teacher. This fall, he also received word that his paper will be published in the January 2021 publication of the New Jersey Studies Interdisciplinary Journal. Graham added, “I feel really proud to represent Centenary in such a great way. This University has given a lot to me, so I’m happy to give back.” 

Graham’s paper investigates five key reasons the Methodist organization chose to locate a new seminary in Hackettstown: proximity to train and canal transportation, vibrant local economy, plentiful healthy water supply, an influential local Methodist minister (with a soon-to-be famous son) on the selection committee, and the altruism and personal economic interests of the University’s original funders.

While 10 Hackettstown-area business leaders are generally credited with altruistic reasons for providing the initial investment in CCI, Graham discovered that some may have been motivated by personal financial gain. Several of the original funders reaped significant financial benefits flipping property surrounding the University’s present campus. “There’s no evidence that these men weren’t acting from a position of altruism,” explained Graham, who began his research three years ago as a freshman. “However, since not all of them were Methodist, I became intrigued about their motivations and found that some of them did make a large profit from land sales.”

Another surprising finding from Graham’s research was the role that fresh spring water from nearby Schooley’s Mountain played in the selection of a location for CCI. Explaining that the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church actively considered several other New Jersey sites, he noted that mineral water resorts were popular among wealthy families in the late 19th century. “Schooley’s Mountain was a big tourist spot—there were several resorts up there,” he said. “The fact that fresh, clean water could be piped from the springs of Schooley’s Mountain to Centenary was very important.”

In addition, Graham uncovered a link between the founding of CCI and author Stephen Crane, the son of Jonathan T. Crane, a Methodist minister on the selection committee for the site who lobbied aggressively to locate the new school in Hackettstown. Two of the pastor’s daughters eventually attended CCI, including Class of 1880 valedictorian Agnes Crane, who taught her younger brother, Stephen, to read and write, according to Graham’s research.

Graham conducted his research under the direction of Noah Haiduc-Dale, Ph.D., a Centenary University associate professor of history who submitted Graham’s project for consideration for the Stellhorn Award. Dr. Haiduc-Dale also encouraged Graham to submit an article on the topic for publication. “I couldn’t be prouder of Sean’s accomplishments,” Dr. Haiduc-Dale said. “Last year’s winners were from Harvard and Princeton, which demonstrates the high caliber of submissions considered every year. It’s great to add Centenary University’s name to that list.”


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