History of the College at Brockport

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History of the College Campus

Below are photos (and a drawing) of the College campus from 18422019

History of The College at Brockport

The following is a brief overview of The College at Brockport's history. For an in depth look, the Rose Archives has an archive of documents and photographs on the Digital Commons.

Brockport Collegiate Institute


In 1835, village leaders partnered with a Baptist group to build an institution of higher learning. These academies were a common institution at the time. At that time, public schooling ended with the 8th grade and "high schools" did not yet exist. Colleges were very few in number, and generally did not admit women or minorities.

The academies were a form of transitional schooling and included elements of modern high school, prep school, and college. Brockport's academy flourished academically, but like many of these institutions, struggled financially.

Malcolm MacVicar, the principal during the era of the Civil War, believed there was a need for better education for teachers in New York. He led a campaign to get the state to establish a system of "Normal" schools across the state. The campaign was a success, and in 1867 the Brockport Collegiate Institute joined the ranks of a "normal school."

Brockport State Normal School


Normal schools were part of a revolution in education taking place in 19th century America. The need for teachers to receive training, especially in teaching methods and subject knowledge, was becoming normalized and supported. Teacher training was officially the sole purpose of the normal school. Although, the old academy tradition was continued in a separate department until the turn of the century.

One key element of the teacher training philosophy of that era was to maintain a "demonstration" school attached to the normal school. Students for the school came from the local community and were taught by student teachers who worked under experienced teachers who critiqued their work.

Charles McLean was the principal for the first several decades of the normal school. He helped establish one of the major elements of the school's culture, the Greek Letter Societies. These societies flourished at the school from 1869–1940.

Brockport State to SUNY Brockport


In the early 1940s, Ernest Hartwell and other educators campaigned successfully to get the state to upgrade the state normal schools to "teachers colleges." The normal schools were a 3 year course in which you received a license to teach school, but not a bachelors degree. The first class to graduate from the teachers college at Brockport with their bachelors degrees was in 1942. Brockport State Teachers College would then become part of the SUNY system, which was established in 1948.

The years following World War II were a time of tremendous growth for higher education, as thousands of veterans attended college with the help of the GI Bill. Brockport began a period of expansion in that time that was unprecedented in the school's history.

Donald Tower became president of the school in 1944. At that time, the entire campus was what we now known as Hartwell Hall. There were only a few hundred students and under 50 faculty and staff members. By the time Tower retired in 1964 there were several thousand students and several hundred faculty and staff members. The physical space of the campus also expanded, adding residence halls and a college union.

The purpose and organization of the College had also grown, as it evolved from a college geared towards only teacher education, into a liberal arts college with a number of master's degree programs. The first graduate degree was awarded in January of 1950.

The school's growth rate peaked in the late '60s which lead to the expansion of more buildings including, the high-rise residence halls and library. In the late '90s. The College launched the MetroCenter (now Brockport Downtown), a complex with a host of classrooms in downtown Rochester.

The College at Brockport, State University of New York


The College continued to develop relationships with numerous government, corporate, and community leaders to increase Brockport's visibility in the region, forming partnerships to further promote student success under President John Halstead.

Heidi R. Macpherson became the first female president of the College in 2015. She has spearheaded the effort in developing "Building a Better Brockport: The College's Strategic Plan, 2017-2022."

Last Updated 7/21/22