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But $66,000 was still a healthy kitty, and in the early 1870s several religious colleges were very interested in it. Back in 1868, faced with a use-it-or-lose-it deadline from the federal land-grant college program, the state legislature had designated Corvallis College as the official state ag school (changing its name to Corvallis State Agriculture College; this college would later become Oregon State University), despite the college being a Southern Methodist institution. With that precedent set, the other sectarian colleges in the state realized that they, too, had a shot at state funds.
So in the summer of 1872, Thomas Franklin Campbell, the president of Christian College in Monmouth (which today is Western Oregon University), went on a barnstorming trip through the state to drum up support for having his college designated as the state university despite its affiliation with the Disciples of Christ Church.
Campbell had cause to regret this. The Eugene business leaders, after listening to his pitch, recognized the opportunity the state’s dilemma presented them. By August they had formed the Union University Association, with $50,000 in capital stock, and entered the fray with a proposal for a nonsectarian state university to be built in Eugene.
So in September 1872, when the Legislature convened to consider whom to favor with state-university status, there were four options: Christian College in Monmouth; Albany College (a Presbyterian college, which later moved to Portland and is now Lewis and Clark College); Pacific University in Forest Grove (United Church of Christ); and the proposed non-sectarian (but as yet unbuilt) university in Eugene.
By a narrow margin, the Legislature approved the Eugene proposal.
It took two years to get the job done, and at several points along the way the plan looked doomed. Money was very tight, and business leaders had to make frequent forays out into the surrounding countryside to pass the hat; Lane County farmers must have gotten really tired of the constant soliciting.
In 1873, the building was finished but there was no money left to put a roof on it, and the UUA had to ask the Legislature for an extension to get the building finished. Campbell, of Christian College in Monmouth, lobbied strenuously against giving them one, but it was granted; the UUA was given until 1877.
It was a very generous extension, and even so, they just barely made it. In August 1876, the state accepted the university — which, of course, consisted merely of the half-finished building that would later be named Deady Hall, perched atop a low treeless rise. Only the first floor was finished; but, it was enough.
And, in an ironic twist, Judge Deady — the man who 20 years before had made the motion to strike the provision for a state university from the state constitution, claiming state universities were of no use to anyone — was selected as the university board of regents’ first president.
Presumably he had, in the intervening years, changed his mind.