Milton College still has its campus and a strong alumni association, so I was able to obtain a yearbook and other campus materials to put together the story of the college. The Rockford Register Star covered the closing of the college. Barbara Rubin Hudson profiled the school in Milton—Wisconsin—a Special Section on Cultural Geography.
Milton College began as Milton Academy, the brainchild of Joseph Goodrich, one of the early settlers of Milton. Moving beyond teaching students to “read and write and do their sums,” Milton Academy provided instruction in Latin to its students. With the arrival of William C. Whitford in 1850, the school began a long association with the Seventh Day Baptists. In 1867 Milton Academy received a state charter and became Milton College.
Hudson notes that after World War II, changes came to the school. Post-war students resisted the religious traditions of the school, so required chapel was dropped. Newer faculty members also were not sympathetic to the traditions of the school. By 1958 the enrollment had dropped to 300.
In the early 1960’s Milton College gained a new life as a “second chance college.” By 1972 the enrollment had grown to 872, leading to a period of campus expansion, including new dormitories and apartments, a gymnasium, and a student center. To help reduce the indebtedness caused by this expansion, the college began to engage in numerous off-campus programs, leading to charges of academic fraud and, ultimately, to loss of accreditation. On May 20, 1982 the college closed, being $4,000,000 in debt. The closing stranded the baseball team in St. Joseph, MO, where it was playing in the national tournament.
Bricks and Mortar
The Milton College campus contained four buildings dating from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Main Hall, the original administration building, dates from 1855. It has been restored and is operated by the Milton College Alumni Association and is rented out for special occasions. Goodrich Hall (1857), the original dormitory, now houses boutique shops. Whitford Hall was added in 1904. Originally the library, with classrooms and laboratories, it is now an antiques mall and the Milton city library. The President’s House, later a music studio, is now a private residence.
Campus buildings were purchased by the Milton College Preservation Society and individual members for $1.
Main Hall (The First Hundred Years of Milton College, Courtesy of Milton College Alumni Association)
Team name: Wildcats (since 1929)
Colors: Brown and Blue
Milton College first fielded a football team in 1899 and played their first intercollegiate game against Whitewater Normal in 1900. In 1921 the Alumni Association raised funds, which allowed Milton to hire a full time coach and compete on a more regular basis. Milton’s first Tri-State Conference championship and undefeated season came in 1935. The 1956 team also went undefeated and won the Badger-Illini Conference. Little All-America halfback Frank Rabiola finished third in the nation in rushing, averaging more than twelve yeards per carry. The most successful team in school history was the 1975 team which went undefeated in nine games. Milton’s most famous football player is Dave Kreig, who went on to a 19-year NFL career, most notably with Seattle, after leaving Milton in 1980.
In its early years, Milton College did not sponsor intercollegiate athletics for women other than in tennis. Above is the 1921 team. The women’s softball team played for the national championship a year before the college closed. (Photo is from the 1921 Fides, <interactive.ancestry.com>)
The 1903 Milton College Baseball Team. Image from the catalog https://archive.org/stream/catalogueofmilto0110milt#page/n77/mode/1up. Accessed 9-11-2018