Oberlin's Namesake: John Frederick Oberlin (1740-1826)

Early views of Oberlin, Ohio

The colony and college at Oberlin, Ohio were founded simultaneously in 1833, seven years after the death of John Frederick Oberlin. The earliest view of the colony and college is a watercolor at the top of a letter by H. Alonzo Pease (1820-1881) in 1838, five years after the colony's founding. Pease helped his father and his uncle clear land for the colony at the age of 12, in 1832. He pursued a career as an artist, receiving commissions to paint portraits of the first three Oberlin College presidents, after working as a photograph colorizer in Cleveland and other midwestern cities.  

In 1876, Oberlin professor Charles Henry Churchill made drawings for an article that was never published, to illustrate the early history of the college and town. This pen and ink drawing is of Cincinnati Hall, a rough structure built of unpeeled logs to house the students who came to Oberlin from Lane Seminary in 1835, when Lane prohibited its students and faculty from discussing slavery on campus. 

Tappan Hall, the college's main instructional and residential building before the mid-1880s, was erected of brick in 1836. This oil painting, attributed to Margaret Drake Penfield and dated around 1840, is an early view of that building.

The first published image of Oberlin is a wood engraving by Henry Howe (1816-1893). Howe made all of the illustrations for his book published in 1848, Historical Collections of Ohio: containing a collection of the most interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, anecdotes, etc., relating to its general and local history : with descriptions of its counties, principal towns and villages. This image is derived from a drawing that Howe made in 1846. One building depicted in this image still stands in Oberlin: First Congregational Church (right), built in 1844. Tappan Hall stands to the left of the church.

While there are earlier photographic images (daguerreotypes) of Oberlin in a private collection, the earliest photograph of Oberlin in the Oberlin College Archives was made in about 1860. In this view, the old Chapel appears at the top left, with Tappan Hall just to the right. The road in the foreground and to the left is College Street. 

In many towns and cities in the U.S., artists were producing imaginative bird's eye views in lithographs as a commercial enterprise. In Oberlin, Albert Ruger produced "Bird's Eye View of the Town Oberlin" in 1868. The principal buildings are illustrated in a detail running along the bottom edge, none of which are standing today. This version of the work is a reproduction made in 1998.

For a complete guide to the history of Oberlin's structures, see Architecture of Oberlin College

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