Fremont County, Iowa

Origin of Tabor College, a Vision of George B. Gaston

by Pat Claiborne

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of March 8, 2010

Many an early pioneer town had the vision of a college but few were able to make their dream a reality. Tabor, Iowa, was one place that saw their hopes realized. It began with George B. Gaston who was born in New Hampshire in 1814 and moved with his parents to Oberlin, OH, in 1834.

As this visionary man was educated in Ohio and joined the Congregational Church, he became inspired by the missionary attitude of those at Oberlin College and was driven by a dream of bringing higher education to the new frontier further west.

In 1840, he traveled to Nebraska and served as a missionary to the Indians in the region. He returned to Oberlin, OH, after five years and ultimately convinced two other forward-looking educators to make the trip west with him to establish a college in the wilderness.

The Rev. John Todd of Clarksfield, OH, agreed to join Gaston on the trek west, as did Deacon Samuel H. Adams and his brother-in-law, Darius P. Matthews. In September, 1847, these three men and their families made up a party of ten and embarked on the long trip west.

That is a simple statement, but the journey involved many days and several methods of travel, first by train to Cincinnati, then on the Ohio river by boat to St. Louis, another boat up the Missouri River to St. Joseph, MO, and the last portion many days by horseback. In October of 1848 they arrived at the home of Lester Platt at Civil Bend (now Percival, IA. Mrs. Platt was a sister of George B. Gaston), arriving in October, 1848.

We can only imagine the rigors of pioneer life these families experienced. Besides building their homes, the newcomers established a church and school. Sadly, in the summer of 1851, the Missouri River flooded and made them reconsider their location. In 1852 they moved a distance from the river to higher ground and gave it the Biblical name of Tabor after the Mt of Transfiguration located in Lower Galilee 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.

George B. Gaston and Samuel Adams built the first two homes in the town of Tabor. What is now Todd House in Tabor was built in 1853, a schoolhouse was built in 1854 and a chapel was built in 1861.

Familiar to many is the story of how these abolitionists supported the work of the Underground Railroad and assisted John Brown in moving slaves to freedom, but did not forget their original purpose in coming to this new land.

After much preparation, a meeting was held in October, 1853, officials for the college were appointed and rules were established. A schoolhouse was built that year and "The Tabor Institute of Learning" was opened on November 3, 1857, with seventeen students enrolled. At that time, classes offered were English, algebra, geometry, physiology, Latin and Greek. Singing was taught in evening classes. William Brooks came to serve as superintendent, later as president.

The school was incorporated as Tabor College in 1866 and Woods Hall, Gaston Hall and Adams were built in 1869, 1887 and 1898.

At one time, students numbered in the hundreds. It is interesting that at one point some one hundred and eighty students were taught by a faculty of only four or five teachers. Eventually there was a well-written college newspaper, The Tabor College Times, an extensive music education program, chorus, band and football, basketball and baseball teams.

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Page updated on April 20, 2021 by Karyn Techau