Chamberlain/Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Columbus College proved to be a tough research nut to crack. I have seen a reference to a Columbus College yearbook, but I have never been able to locate one. But when I found that the present Veterans Hospital occupies the old campus in central Sioux Falls, I at least had a starting place. On my visit to the hospital, I blundered around until I found an open office. The gentleman inside told me, “Yes, this is the college, and I am the principal. Then he asked, “Why have you been sent here? A more helpful officer found a booklet on the building and its history as a college, and invited me to photograph whatever looked good to me. The South Dakota Historical Society at Pierre found the school seal shown at right.
Columbus College was founded as a men’s Catholic boarding school by Bishop Thomas O’Gorman of Sioux Falls. Directed by the clerics of St. Viator, it originally occupied the buildings and grounds of a federal Indian school in Chamberlain, SD. According to the school’s catalogue, the goal of the school was the “harmonious development of the entire man.” The course of study was to embrace the “intellect and will, the heads and heart, knowledge of duty and virtuous habits.”
Columbus College was an academy as well as a four-year college. By its charter it was empowered to grant bachelor's degrees in arts, philosophy, science and literature; the first degrees were awarded in 1914. That same year Columbus Seminary was added. By the 1918-19 school year, the total enrollment of the seminary, college, and academy was 133.
Experiencing financial problems in Chamberlain, Columbus College was moved to Sioux Falls to take advantage of Post-World War I expansion there. In Sioux Falls, Columbus College offered a Bachelor of Science degree with pre-medical, pre-legal, pre-dental, and pre-engineering majors. It also offered a Bachelor of Arts degree, called a normal course.
Columbus College closed in the fall of 1929, a victim of the Great Depression.
Bricks and Mortar
On the Chamberlain campus, O’Connor Hall was built in 1910 to replace the original administration building. Constructed of Sioux Falls granite and brick with stone trimmings, it was named for the founder.
In Sioux Falls, Columbus College built an English Gothic building in “Danville cloister brick in various shades, laid up in Flemish bond and trimmed with Bedford Stone.” The campus consisted of three connected structures: Dormitory, Science Hall, and Gymnasium. The 1925-26 catalogue devotes two pages to descriptions of the architectural features—the tile and terrazzo floors, the “lofty beamed and vaulted ceiling,” the porte-cochere, the massive carved fireplace.
After Columbus College closed in 1929, the campus became a Columbus Normal and Junior College for Women, operated by the Sisters of St. Francis, until it closed in 1934. In 1943 the U.S. Army purchased the campus as an emergency hospital, later as a convalescent hospital. In 1949 it became the core structure of the Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Hospital. Additions and renovations have followed the English Gothic style of the original campus.
Original Columbus College dormitory overlooks the newer additions of Royal C. Johnson Veterans Memorial Hospital in this 2010 photo.
Team name: Mariners
Colors: Gold and Purple
In the years prior to its closure, Columbus College became a regional powerhouse in football. Moving to Sioux Falls and joining the South Dakota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Columbus had league championships in 1924 and 1927 and a co-championship in 1926. The 1927 team went undefeated. In the SDIC the Mariners defeated Eastern State (Now Dakota State), Northern State, Yankton, Dakota Wesleyan and Huron. Non-conference victories came over St. Thomas (MN) and Trinity (IA).