On the move from Downtown Waterville | 1930-1940s
An editorial cartoon in the Waterville Sentinel
shows Colby buildings being carted off to Augusta, where a new campus site was proposed.
"… [President Franklin Johnson] was pleased by the attempt to lure Colby downriver. Talk of the offer would affirm that the College was serious about moving, and it might provoke a counter-offer in Waterville, where Johnson wanted the College to stay. [In Augusta, newspaper publisher William H.] Gannett made his offer official on June 9, 1930. The College could have the [Augusta] land provided it raised $3.5 million in moving money in three years. The publisher hinted he would help with the matching money as well. It was a magnificent gesture, and one that could not be taken lightly. Four days later, the trustees met and unanimously approved the special committee's recommendation with a terse resolution: "it is the sense of this meeting that the College, as soon as means can be obtained and it is feasible, be moved to a new and more adequate location."
News of the trustee decision and the Gannett offer hit at the same time, and the reaction was powerful. Around town people quickly tied the Colby president to a conspiracy with the Augusta publisher. The Sentinel
cried out: "Keep Colby, Move Johnson," and among alumni and in the local homes, shops, and mills the very idea of moving the College at all – never mind out of town – seemed utter nonsense. They called it "Johnson's folly."
The president's silence and his determination to keep the Gannett offer on the table had the predictable effect. Within days a Waterville citizens’ committee was formed to see what could be done to keep Colby. J. F. Hill and Herbert Emery were leaders, as was a man with great credibility both in town and at the College, Herbert C. Libby '02. A Waterville native, Libby had served as the city's mayor, taught public speaking, and had been Prexy Roberts's assistant. He was now editor of the College alumni magazine, the Alumnus
, which he unabashedly used to trumpet the Waterville case: "The immediately important step is for Waterville to organize her citizens into a large group of Friends of Colby," he wrote, "and for each to pledge so generously as to convince the governing body of the College and its 4,000 graduates that the home folks deeply desire to keep Colby within its sacred walls."
The presentation of the deed to Ma0yflower Hill to Colby by city officials, April 1931. Front, left to right, are Professor Julian Taylor, President Franklin Johnson, Herbert Wadsworth, chairman of the Colby board of trustees, and Waterville Mayor F. Harold Dubord '03.
Between June and September the Citizens Committee held fifteen meetings, and pledged to raise $100,000 and give it to the College if it would stay in town. In the meantime, the College launched its own $500,000 campaign for the development of a new campus, wherever it was going to be. General Herbert M. Lord '84, director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget, was general chairman. (His selection by Wadsworth was regarded as a prediction of success, given that he had "more experience than any other man in the country in handling huge sums of money.")
With the time for a location decision drawing near, the committee called for a final meeting of citizens and took a full-page advertisement in the Sentinel. "Make this the largest meeting ever held in Waterville," the ad said. "Don't depend on the other fellow, do it yourself. Sickness is the only excuse any citizen of Waterville should have not to attend." The paper's editorial page picked up the cry: "For a city of the size and resources of Waterville this is really a tremendous task and so it's well that every effort is being made to make it possible. It will need everything every citizen can do and is a real test of mettle and loyalty. There's no place for slackers or whiners in this situation."