One of the most remarkable figures in Mansfield history is the Hon. Simon B. Elliott.
Today Simon B. Elliott Hall houses Mansfield University’s departments of business and economics, math and computer information science, and nursing.
Surprisingly those are some of the very few fields that Elliott did not enter.
Simon B. Elliott was born in 1830 in Sheshequin, Bradford County. While he was still a boy, he moved to Middlebury, Tioga County, with his father Larman H. Elliott, a mason, and his brother, Dr. Charles Elliott. He was 18 years old when the family moved to Mansfield in 1848. Education was always important to young Simon, who also completed three years of schooling at the Wellsboro Academy.
In the mid 1850s, Mansfield was poised to become incorporated as a borough. Around the same time, a group of enterprising citizens proposed constructing a school of higher learning. Simon B. Elliott found himself involved in both efforts. According to historical information from early newspapers, as well as Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice, Simon B. Elliott was elected recording secretary for the first borough council and his first meeting was April 3, 1857. His father Larman was one of the original council members.
Simon himself was elected burgess (mayor), a position he held in 1859. Due to the efforts of Joseph Seth Hoard, Dr. J.P. Morris, Simon Elliott and many others, Mansfield Classical Seminary opened Jan. 7, 1857 with 105 students. The school was under the auspices of the East Genesee Methodist Episcopal Conference.
Mansfield Classical Seminary’s enrollment had grown to about 150 students when the institution’s second term started April 16, 1857. Six days later at 10 a.m. on April 22, the seminary building caught fire and burned to the ground. The origin of the fire was believed to be due to a defect in the chimney system. Some furniture, doors and windows were saved, but many items were ruined. On that day, there was a foot of snow on the ground and many of the furnishings were damaged when they were brought out of the burning building and placed in the snow.
The building was insured for $12,000, but the Panic of 1857 a national financial crisis caused one of the insurance companies to close and another refused to pay. While the building was still smoldering the founders, including Elliott, met and resolved to rebuild. It was Elliott, a brick layer by trade who designed the second Seminary Building.
At this time the group raised about $4,000 for the effort. Construction started immediately with the first floor completed by autumn. The walls were braced for the winter with construction to resume in the spring.
In August, 1858, the citizens of Mansfield invited the members of the East Genesee Methodist Episcopal Conference members to a free picnic on the “Island” (now Smythe Park) in hopes that the conference would offer financial support for the rebuilding effort. They couldn't help Mansfield financially, but the local crowd that had assembled raised about $4,000 in subscriptions and pledges of goods and labor.
Work resumed immediately. Elliott recorded that only 50 cents was paid in labor in 1858. That sum was paid to a “chap who came along and represented himself as a bricklayer, but he was not.” That person was discharged that day and paid 50 cents. Work continued for the next year and Mansfield Classical Seminary reopened on Nov. 23, 1859 in the still uncompleted building with some 30 students.
The low enrollment, coupled with an $8,000 debt, caused financial problems for the next several years. Elliott also noted that by 1860, only four of the original officers were serving on the board. He described a scheme hatched by the new treasurer, a Rev. R.A. Drake, who nearly succeeded in selling the seminary building. His plan was stopped by some of the original founders, but the debts remained.
Elliott recorded that “hardly a term of court passed without the Seminary being advertised for sale by the sheriff.” However, he added that it was remarkable how often errors were made in the advertisements for the sale and on these grounds the sheriff’s sale could be delayed.
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