This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
In the last chapter of Walden, Henry David Thoreau suggested that even dreamers needed to build a practical, sturdy foundation under their dreams. It was advice that came a decade too late to help J. Alden Woodruff of Rock Island.
As a dreamer, few people excelled Woodruff. On March 15, 1841, he announced the opening of Rock Island Academical High School, with himself as principal. The announcement coincided with the change in the name of the town itself from Stephenson to Rock Island.
Rock Island Academical High School was to be a rigorous, no-nonsense school. Principal Woodruff announced that he would refuse to accept students who could not read.
Since he expected his school to draw pupils who lived too far to commute, he included boarding facilities in his plans. Apparently, all that summer he continued to dream. The dreams grew. By August 25, even before it had a single student, the school had grown into Rock Island University, with Chancellor Woodruff as its head.
The Chancellor assembled a board of directors, as befits a university, and drew plans for elaborate commencement exercises. The program included an inaugural address by the chancellor, four declamations, and two original student compositions. The program would be rounded out by several orations, music by the university choir, and a band concert by the university band.
Alas, there is no record of any commencement, even a modest one. By the fall of 1844, the university had again become Rock Island High School, and a new principal was in place. Shortly, it ceased to exist altogether. The university, Woodruff announced, "had not met with sufficient patronage."
J. Alden Woodruff had dreamed big dreams and planned for almost every contingency. But amid all the decisions about textbooks, housing, courses, and ceremonies, he had forgotten one detail—the foundation on which every American private school solidly rests: the annual fund drive.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.