Albion State Normal School
The Albion State Normal/Southern Idaho College of Education still has an active alumni association and a museum. The curator, Shirley Lund, provided a newsletter about the present state of the old school and its students. Ancestry.com has made the 1909, 1929, and 1934 yearbooks available on line. The library at Idaho State University provided the Albion State Normal School logo.
Nelson Merry College was chartered by the state of Tennessee on January 3, 1889. The Tennessee Virtual Archives credits Reverend Peter Guinn of the Martha Davis Baptist Church in Jefferson City with raising funds for building the school. The opening date and even the name of the school are disputed. Tennessee Virtual Archive says the school was founded “approximately 1890”; Fuller gives 1894; The Yearbook shows 1902. The Globe calls the 1930 commencement, the school’s 29th. Fuller says that the school was said to be named for Revered Nelson Merry, the freed Black minister. But Negro Education lists the name as Nelson Mary College. Many references hyphenate the name, suggesting two entities.
Albion State Normal School was created by an act of the Idaho legislature in 1893. The town donated land and built the first building with volunteer labor. Classes began in the fall of 1894 with President F. A. Swanger, one assistant, and a student body of 23.
The 1909 Sage, the school yearbook, shows a student body of 81 college students and 26 preparatory students, taught by a faculty of 14. The small numbers resulted in tightly-knit campus life, not only among students but between students and faculty. Most students were members of one of the two literary societies—the Emersonian Society, founded in 1896, and the Philomathean Society, formed a year later. These societies were the basis of the drama and forensic activities of the school. In addition, many of the students were members of one of the musical groups—glee club, band or orchestra.
Two issues followed ASNS through the years. One was low enrollment. The 1934 Sage shows that ASNS had become a two-year school with an enrollment of just over 200. The other related issue was that the college was constantly targeted for closure. Albion weathered such attempts in 1911 and 1917. In 1946 a study by the George Peabody College, commissioned by the state legislature, recommended closure of Albion Normal within five years unless enrollment increased. As a result, the school received a new and expanded mission and a new name—Southern Idaho College of Education.
When it was clear that Albion was not able to increase its enrollment, the state closed the school at the end of the 1951 school year. In 57 years of operation, Albion State Normal produced 6,560 teachers, including a future U.S. Secretary of Education, Terrell H. Bell.
Axline Gymnasium today is part of the Albion Campus Retreat. It is one of three buildings used for the haunted mansions. (Photo courtesy of Albion Campus Retreat)
Bricks and Mortar
The first building was Swanger Hall, completed in 1896. This building incorporated the original building, built by volunteers in 1893. The “old dormitory,” Miller Hall, was built in 1901, housing men. The “New Dormitory,” Hanson Hall was built in 1905 for women. The Model Training School was completed a year later. The Axline Gymnasium and Auditorium was finished in 1914.
Swanger Hall burned in 1947; otherwise the campus has outlasted Albion Normal School. Magic Valley Christian College occupied the campus 1958-1969. In 2007 the campus was sold at auction. Today the buildings are being renovated as Albion Campus Retreat with a hotel, a bed and breakfast, a museum and a haunted mansion.
Colors: Cardinal and Black
Team name: Panthers
Yearbooks show that Albion Normal sponsored football, basketball and track teams for men and a basketball team for women.
Despite low numbers, Albion Normal fielded a football from 1895 until the school closed. Team members often came to college with no previous experience with football. A natural opponent was Academy of Idaho at Pocatello—now Idaho State. These two schools played off for the championship of Southeast Idaho. The winner then played College of Idaho at Caldwell for the championship of Southern Idaho. In the early years Albion also played against teams from the larger high schools such as Twin Falls and Black Foot.
Seniors from the 1908 team display the football uniforms of the day. Note the shin guards and what passed for shoulder pads. (Image from 1909 Sage <>)