Origin of Tabor College
Tabor College, a vision of Gaston
by Pat Claiborne
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
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
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.
To be continued