The founder of Monticello College was Captain Benjamin Godfrey. He went to sea at age nine with his stepfather and by 18 served with a gunboat flotilla during the war of 1812. He became master of his own ship in the trade and cargo transportation industry between his Baltimore home, New Orleans and the West Indies. Godfrey lost his first fortune when his ship went down in the Gulf of Mexico. He gave up seafaring and made another fortune south of the border in trading operations for nine years, but lost it all when bandits robbed the train bringing the money to the United States. He made his third fortune in New Orleans in the Mississippi River shipping and commerce trade.
In 1834, he and his family settled north of the campus in a two story limestone mansion in an area then known as Scarritt’s Prairie. The Benjamin Godfrey Mansion was declared a national historical site by Department of the Interior in 1934. The mansion still stands and was for a while refurbished as a fine restaurant. When the restaurant closed (approximately 1994) it was purchased by the Lewis and Clark Community College Foundation and, at the present time, provides office space for the Riverbend Growth Association and Pride, Inc.
Though many people scoffed at schooling for females, Godfrey built Monticello Female Seminary in 1838. He saw the need for education, particularly for women. Godfrey had eight daughters. He believed that “if you educate a man you educate an individual; educate a woman and you educate a whole family.” The school was named after the Virginia estate of Thomas Jefferson, whom he greatly admired. To head the school, he chose the Rev. Theron Baldwin, a graduate of Yale Theological Seminary who was dedicated to bringing religion and culture west of the Alleghenies. Baldwin was among the founders of Illinois College in Jacksonville- 1833.
At this time, Alton had less than 2,300 citizens. In 1867, Harriett Newell Haskell took over as principal of the school, where she stayed for 40 years. She has been acclaimed as one of the Midwest’s greatest early educators. When she came to Monticello, Capt. Godfrey had been dead six years and history accounts read that the school was in need of a firm hand. She was both a great educator and a quality administrator. She could anticipate any tricks her charges tried to play, because it was said that as young girl she, herself, had been the terror of her family. Daily chapel services were part of Miss Haskell’s routine. The chapel stood across Highway 67 (then a dirt road). So each day the girls trooped across the road to chapel and soon local boys gathered to watch the girls cross the road. Miss Haskell watched the gatherings and after some time started a course of religious instruction for the boys. Much to the young men’s surprise, she was so interesting that they attended willingly.
One Christmas not all the young ladies traveled home for the holidays and Miss Haskell wanting to spark the festivities, dressed up as Santa Claus. Stepping too close to the candles on the tree, her fake beard caught the flames and badly burned the left side of her face. Therefore, all archival paintings of Miss Haskell are of right profile only.
In 1888, on a Saturday night, the original building burned with no human casualties. Within two years, Harriett Haskell and the Board of Trustees had the school rebuilt. Architect for the structure was Theodore Link, who also designed St. Louis’ Union Station. After Haskell’s death, in 1907, the alumnae had erected the Harriett Newell Haskell Memorial Gate. The arched gateway at the front of the campus, also designed by Theodore Link, is said to be the first national monument erected in the memory of a woman. Miss Haskell was so loved by her charges and she was so devoted to the College that stories claim that her spirit still walks the halls of the Main Complex.
Historical buildings of Monticello College that remain on campus of Lewis and Clark Community College include the following:
- Godfrey Memorial Chapel which was built in 1854 and as previously mentioned, stood across the highway. Monticello College closed in 1970. In 1979, the Chapel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Illinois as “one of the six most authentic copies of New England church architecture beyond the North Eastern United States.” On Aug. 11 1991, Benjamin Godfrey Memorial Chapel was relocated to its present site on the west side of Highway 67. Some of the original panes of glass remain in the windows.
- The first structure on the most southeast corner of the campus is Gilman Hall. It is the oldest building on campus. It was built in 1836 by Benjamin Ives Gilman, Jr. It has served various purposes throughout the years.
The Main Complex is comprised of several halls, each named after significant leaders from the “Monti” days.
- Caldwell Hall – built in 1890 was the structure that replaced the burned original and is the main building of the historic campus structures. It was originally known as the East Residence but was renamed in 1942 in honor of C.A. Caldwell, college Trustee for 39 years from 1903 to 1942.
- Reid Hall – erected by William Henry Reid, also in1890 in memory of his wife Eleanor Irwin Reid. It was built as a chapel at the north end of the newly rebuilt main structure. The ceiling is constructed using wooden pegs (no nails were used) and resembles the inverted hull of a ship. The large Praise Angel window of beautiful 19th century stained glass, graces the majestic study area. Reid Hall underwent major renovation in 1988. The stately wooden-ceiling and stained glass still enhance Reid Memorial Library, which is part of the state-of-the-art Learning Resource Center on the second floor. The first floor houses the stacks in the east wing and the campus Restaurant is located in the west.
- Baldwin Hall – 1890, named after Theron Baldwin, first Monticello principal , currently houses the bookstore run by Follett (right off of the area called Grand Central) through the double doors at the southwest corner of Caldwell.
- Fobes Hall – added in 1916, connects to Caldwell on the south of the main complex by atrium walkways on the first and second floors. It was named after a former Monticello teacher and the second principal (1843-1865), Philena Fobes.
- Wade Hall – built in 1926 in memory of Edward Pierson Wade, former Monticello trustee. Wade connects to the north end of the main complex at Reid Hall by a glassed-in walkway constructed in the 1988 renovation.
- Haskell Hall – to the south of the Main Complex and built of Wisconsin limestone, it was opened Thanksgiving Day, 1937, as a Monticello dormitory.
- The Evergreens – stands to the north of the Main Complex. It was built around 1850 as a private residence and purchased by Monticello principal Harriet Haskell. It was used as her private home until her death in 1907. It was designated in her will that the house become college property . Until 1935 it was used as a faculty residence. After that, it was a residence for Monticello presidents. Its Federal style includes arched windows, drawing room and a widow’s walk. It is now the home of the Monticello College Foundation and is open to the public for tours by appointment.