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100 Years Ago: First Day of Classes at Tech

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It was 100 years ago today --- Oct. 26, 1910 --- when nine faculty members and 186 students reported to the newly-constructed Main Building for the first day of classes at the Second District Agricultural School.

A century later, the name of the school has evolved from the Second District Agricultural School (1909-25) to Arkansas Polytechnic College (1925-76) to Arkansas Tech University (1976-Present).

Enrollment has grown to 9,814 students. The curriculum has evolved from that of an agricultural high school to a junior college to a four-year college. Today, Arkansas Tech is a comprehensive regional university.

And yet, even after 100 years, continuous evolution to meet the changing educational needs of its constituents and the conferment of almost 35,000 degrees, at least one aspect of the institution has remained true for a century.

"One constant through the years at Arkansas Tech University has been the level of dedication that our institution has had to student success," said Arkansas Tech President Dr. Robert C. Brown. "It was true in the beginning, and it is true today."

Arkansas Tech University was created by Act 100 of the 37th Arkansas General Assembly. The institutions known today as Arkansas State University, the University of Arkansas at Monticello and Southern Arkansas University were also brought into existence by that piece of legislation.

Gov. George Donaghey signed Act 100 on April 1, 1909, and thus created four agricultural schools that were placed around the state of Arkansas.

In the winter of 1910, the Board of Trustees for the Second District Agricultural School was looking for a place to locate the newly-created school.

Fort Smith, Morrilton, Ozark and Russellville were among the communities that submitted bids. All met the minimum requirements of 200 acres of land and $40,000, but Morrilton upped the ante by making a bid of $46,000.

As the Second District Agricultural School Board of Trustees prepared to meet in February 1910 it looked as if Morrilton would receive the school, and along with it the educational opportunities and economic boost that it was sure to bring.

The Russellville delegation was led by Judge R.B. Wilson, and the judge had an ace in the hole. Just three months before the decision on the location of the Second District Agricultural School was made, construction of a new dam on the Illinois Bayou near Russellville was completed.

The completion of that dam in November 1909 made it possible for the city of Russellville to make one final addition to its bid --- the town offered to provide the Second District Agricultural School with free water and electricity for three years.

That offer tipped the balance in favor of Russellville, and it turned out to be a pretty good investment for the city of Russellville.

A recent economic impact study found that Arkansas Tech accounts for 18.6 percent of the total economy for the three counties in its immediate service area --- Pope, Yell and Johnson.

Construction of the Main Building (photographed) began on April 21, 1910, and the school opened its doors to an initial class of 186 students on Oct. 26, 1910.

Much has changed since that first day of class. Brown sees every reason to believe that Arkansas Tech will change, grow and improve even more during its second century than it did during its first.

"I see the pace of change accelerating," said Brown. "We are in a completely different era because of the rapid development of information technology. Education is about the growth of the individual, but access to information is a key component in that process. Our students' ability to obtain information is increasing at an increasing rate."