There is no other college or university in the United States quite like Blackburn College. Our unique campus culture is the byproduct of the purposeful melding of our nationally acclaimed student-managed Work Program and rigorous liberal arts academic curriculum. The result is a unique living laboratory for learning where the boundaries between job and classroom are blurred, and mentoring from faculty and staff knows no clock.

Since 1913, Blackburn’s student managed Work Program has made the dream of a college education affordable for thousands of first generation students by keeping the cost of our private liberal arts education within their reach. Over the years, our students have built Blackburn – literally brick by brick. In fact, Blackburn enjoys the distinction of being the only college campus in the United States to have been largely built by its students. Today our students carry on this tradition by staffing mission critical jobs as plumbers, carpenters, painters, landscapers, cooks, servers, administrators, computer technicians, janitors, graphic artists, security officers, assistant coaches, tutors and teaching assistants.

At Blackburn, students are fully vested in every aspect of their college experience, whether it’s success in the classroom, managing or staffing their campus job or in governing the life of the institution.

A blended photo on the right a photo of student workers in the kitchen preparing breakfast in the 1950s blended with a photo from the 2010s of three student workers in the dining and hospitality section, both groups serving the same group of plates.
  • 1835: Government land for the college obtained by Gideon Blackburn. Site for the campus purchased by citizens.
  • 1837: Land deeded to trustees by Gideon Blackburn. Blackburn College founded by Dr. Gideon Blackburn.
  • 1855: Instruction began.
  • 1857: Blackburn Theological Seminary chartered. First unit of University Hall (“Old Main”) erected.
  • 1858: “Old Main” constructed (located near today’s Jones Hall)
  • 1862: Blackburn Academy organized (on campus grade school and high school)
  • 1864: Four year college established. Women admitted to all classes.
  • 1867: Theological department organized. Second unit of “Old Main” erected.
  • 1869: Charter name changed to Blackburn University.
  • 1870: First college commencement held in Macoupin County Courthouse.
  • 1871: First edition of the Blackburn Gazette published (later known as The Blackburn CourierThe Blackburnian, and finally The ‘Burnian) which is today the oldest college newspaper still published in Illinois.
  • 1883: The graduating class donates the “Virgin Rock”, which sits in front of Butler Hall.
  • 1885: Minton Observatory constructed (near the site of today’s C.H.C. Anderson building).
  • 1913: Student “Self Help Plan” initiated (participating students paid $100 tuition and contributed 3 of manual labor). College barns built.
  • 1915: Pullman cars donated and installed to be used as dormitories.
  • 1916: Certificate of Associate of Arts granted to graduates.
  • 1917: Last four-year class graduated (4 members) until the 1949 class.
  • 1918: Bachelor of Arts four year program discontinued. Junior College established. First junior college class (9 members) graduated.
  • 1922: Central heating plant completed.
  • 1924: Stoddard Hall constructed.
  • 1926: McKinley House constructed. Given to Blackburn University by Senator McKinley.
  • 1927: Old Main (University Hall) destroyed by fire.
  • 1928: Burridge D. Butler Hall constructed. Ground broken for what would become Hudson Hall.
  • 1930: The original Blackburn Academy discontinued. Hudson Hall constructed. Pullman cars discarded (burned).
  • 1931: Blackburn accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools as a Junior College.
  • 1932: Temporary gymnasium erected.
  • 1934: Wilson House opened.
  • 1936: Modern dairy barn erected.
  • 1937: Dairy house erected.
  • 1938: Dawes Gymnasium constructed.
  • 1940: New boiler and stokers installed. Senate purchased and remodeled.
  • 1941: Ground broken for Jones Hall.
  • 1942: Minton Observatory razed.
  • 1943: North wing of the College Barn destroyed by fire; agriculture program effectively discontinued Brick tool house and garage constructed.
  • 1947: Bachelor of Arts degree program re-established. Library Annex obtained.
  • 1949: Jones-Allison Hall constructed.
  • 1950: Blackburn received accreditation as a four year Bachelor’s degree granting institution.
  • 1951: Music building acquired.
  • 1954: C.H.C. Anderson Student Center (“Den”) constructed.
  • 1957: F.W. Olin Science Building constructed.
  • 1959: Graham Hall constructed. Robertson Hall destroyed by fire. Renner Art building acquired.
  • 1960: Associate of Arts degree discontinued.
  • 1961: Construction of Ludlum Hall begun.
  • 1962: Alumni hall of Biology added to F.W. Olin Science Building.
  • 1964: Construction of Lumpkin Library begun.
  • 1965: Challacombe Hall (“North”) constructed. Ludlum Hall construction completed.
  • 1967: Theresa M. Renner Art Center opened. Separate gas-heating units replace central coal-fired heating.
  • 1968: C.H.C. Anderson Student Center expanded. Fred M. Jewell residence Hall and James R. Fuller Infirmary constructed.
  • 1969: Clegg Chapel renovated. Clement J. and Elizabeth P. Lumpkin Library opened. North wind still under construction. Allison Dining Hall expanded.
  • 1970: Isabel Bothwell Conservatory of Music with facilities for theater construction completed.
  • 1971: Language Laboratory newly equipped.
  • 1972: Former library space in Hudson Hall lower level converted into classrooms and offices.
  • 1974: Remodeling of Dawes Gymnasium begun. Playing floor enlarged to regulation size.
  • 1975: Construction begun on Woodward (addition to Dawes Gymnasium) to include swimming pool, locker rooms, exercise areas, and handball courts.
  • 1983: Computer Center established.
  • 1984: Herbert N. Woodward Physical Education Center dedicated.
  • 1991: Mary H. Rahme Learning Resource Center dedicated.
  • 1999: Physical Plant Building completed (located behind Lumpkin)
  • 2000: Hudson Hall completely renovated.
  • 2002: Demuzio Campus Center opened. Includes kitchen and dining hall, snack bar, student life offices, Work Program offices, mail room, and bookstore.
  • 2003: Visual Arts Center constructed (attached to north side of Bothwell conservatory).
  • 2005: David M. Woodson Center for Business and Economics opened (housed inside Jones-Allison where the kitchen and dining hall were previously located).
  • 2008: The Marvin and Ingrid Mahan Science Laboratory constructed (located adjacent to Olin, one of the first LEED rated buildings in central Illinois, houses state of the art laboratories for biology, chemistry, biochemistry, faculty offices, and a large enclosed atrium).
  • 2009: Swimming pool in Woodward Center closed.
  • 2014: Phase 1 of the Lumpkin Library Learning Commons renovation completed (Lobby and offices).
  • 2016: Phase 2 of the Lumpkin Library Learning Commons renovation completed (north wing).
  • 2016: C.H.C. Anderson (the “Den”) remodeled/refurbished and named the Claire Jaenke Alumni Welcome Center in C.H.C. Anderson. Alumni and Development staff moves from Ludlum Hall to the Welcome Center.
  • 2017: Woodward Center renovated and re-purposed for a wellness center. Old pool area filled in and covered with new floor for placement of exercise equipment. Lobby, offices, and hall redone.

Buildings Constructed by Students in the Work Program

  • Stoddard Hall
  • Butler Hall
  • Hudson Hall
  • Dawes Gymnasium
  • Olin Science Hall
  • Graham Hall
  • Alumni Hall of Biology
  • Ludlum Hall
  • Lumpkin Library
  • Woodward Center (Dawes addition)
  • Rahme Learning Resource Center addition to Lumpkin Learning Commons

History of Blackburn Mural

About the Artist, Reverend James McClarey

In 1952, Blackburn College senior James McClarey ’53AA embarked on a journey through the college’s history for his senior art project. After spending a semester researching Blackburn’s history, McClarey, with assistance from William Oberbeck ’53, painted the History of Blackburn. The mural details the college’s history from its beginnings through the quickly changing 1950s.

An art major, while at Blackburn he was president of the art club, student newspaper cartoonist, and worked in a variety of Work Program positions. After graduation, earned his B.S. from Illinois Wesleyan University and Bachelor of Divinity from Garrett Theological Seminary. Rev. McClarey worked as a minister for the United Methodist Church from 1962 until his retirement.


  1. Blackburn College Founder and Namesake, Reverend Gideon Blackburn. Founded as Blackburn Theological Seminary in 1837, Rev. Blackburn acquired the 80 acres of land on which the college still stands today from the City of Carlinville. Blackburn Theological Seminary opened its doors in 1859 and was named in Rev. Blackburn’s honor. The original deed can be found on the wall of the President’s Office.
  2. The Ideal Blackburn Student. This figure portrays Rev. Blackburn’s ideal Blackburn student— intelligent, forward-thinking, and forward–looking. This artist’s rendition of the ideal student and the Blackburn experience is reflective of the times. Current Blackburn students bring a wealth of diversity in race, religion, culture, and creed.
  3. Robertson Hall. This portrayal of Robertson Hall, with an open door, signifies a welcome to Blackburn College. Built in 1880, Robertson Hall was named after William A. Robertson, a generous friend of the college. Then one of two primary academic buildings on campus, Robertson burned on November 10, 1959. Ludlum Hall was built on the spot where Robertson once stood. A cornerstone to the building can be found outside of Ludlum.
  4. New Construction. These men driving stakes into the ground represent the college’s Work Program and New Construction. Since the founding of the Work Program in 1913, Blackburn students have assisted in the construction of 10 campus buildings. Student dedication to the forward momentum of the college, both physically and figuratively, has shaped Blackburn College for more than a century.
  5. The Classroom. This scene represents the importance of learning, the hands-on academic experiences, and the close-knit student and faculty relationships found at Blackburn College. More than 60 years after this mural’s creation, participating in the arts, sciences, and humanities are still a part of the liberal arts experience that all students take part in during their years at Blackburn.
  6. Athletics. Blackburn has a long and proud history of athletic distinction. The college’s first athletic contest was a baseball game played against Illinois College on March 29, 1882. Blackburn students, so dedicated to athletics, built the college’s first campus gymnasium with their own hands in 1930. It was used until the completion of Dawes Gymnasium in 1938. In the decades since, the college has seen national titles, conference championships, excellence among individual players, and a commitment to teamwork that defines the Blackburn spirit. The one-armed baseball player portrayed, although often incorrectly thought to be the famed Pete Gray, is Robert Allison a Blackburn student in the early 1900s, who had lost his left arm in a coal mining accident in Pennsylvania.
  7. Planning for the Future. The 1950s were a time of great change for the nation and Blackburn College. This group of men, crowded around a table, represent the planning of the college’s future.
  8. Clegg Chapel. Going back to Blackburn’s religious roots, Clegg Chapel towers over the mural’s other scenes. Completed in 1932 and located on the west side of Hudson Hall, Clegg Chapel was given as a memorial to Sherman K. Clegg by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sherman D. Clegg. Weekly, or even daily, chapel services were once mandatory. Now, reminders of Blackburn’s Presbyterian roots can be found in the school’s on-going chaplaincy services and during ceremonial college events, in which Rev. Blackburn’s Bible is still used.
  9. Pullman Car. In 1916, brick and mortar were not the only materials providing a roof over students’ heads. Due to the need for more space quickly, in 1916 the college brought in Pullman train cars to serve as additional classrooms and housing. An advertisement from May 22, 1920, featuring a group of smiling young women posing on the Pullman, says, “We girls have the best time imaginable and the cars are so comfortable, with hot water heat, hot and cold running water, electric lights, and plenty of light and fresh air.” After Old Main burned the night of August 22, 1927, the cars were once again used for housing, the library, classrooms, and administrative offices. In 1939, no longer in need of the additional space, the Blackburn Pullmans intentionally were burned.
  10. Mary Hunter Austin. One of Blackburn’s most notable graduates, Mary Hunter Austin sits against a tree, a homage to her dedication to early environmental and conservation efforts. A native of Carlinville and an 1888 graduate, she is best known for her nature writings about the American Southwest. Austin was a contemporary of famed nature photographer Ansel Adams, co-authoring Taos Pueblo with Adams in 1929. A bust of her stands in the Marvin and Ingrid Mahan Science Laboratory Wing, honoring her contributions.
  11. The Farm. Located on the north east corner of campus, where the Mahan Science Wing now stands, Blackburn’s farm was in operation from the early 1900s until the late 1940s, when the college’s agricultural program was discontinued. The Blackburn farm produced food for the campus through crops and livestock, and offered Work Program positions to both men and women. The first college barn was built in 1913 and a second built in 1935. Depicted in the mural directly behind the young men pitching hay, the barn burned to the ground on January 11, 1943. Photos of the barn in flames can be found in the Blackburn archives.
  12. The Work Program. Founded in 1913 by President Dr. William Hudson as the Student Self-Help Plan, the Work Program forever changed Blackburn College. For more than 100 years, the Work Program has shaped the lives of thousands of students. Student labor has contributed to the construction of almost every campus building, 10 of which still stand today; stoked coal fires and shoveled snowy walks; assisted in the tutoring and education of fellow students; served meals and baked pies for the campus community, and more. Although work positions shift and change as years and technology progress, all student work at Blackburn College remains integral to the daily functions and success of the institution.
  13. Rejuvenation. The 1950s began a time of great rejuvenation on the Blackburn campus. These young men, wielding hammers and building brick walls, represent the changes seen throughout campus during those years. Since this mural’s completion in 1953, 15 campus facilities have been built, 10 of which used student labor.
  14. Dr. and Mother Hudson. Unquestionably Blackburn’s greatest president, there is no doubt that without Dr. William Hudson the college would not be here today. A graduate of Princeton University, Dr. Hudson came to Blackburn in 1911 as its 12th president. Under Hudson’s tutelage, the college, once on the brink of financial ruin, flourished with the implementation of the Student Self-Help Plan and Hudson’s skill at fundraising (or as has been said, his reputation as the “world’s greatest beggar”). With his wife, Florence (known adoringly as Mother Hudson by students), Dr. Hudson remained President of Blackburn for 33 years, retiring in 1945.
  15. Hudson Hall. Completed in 1932, Hudson Hall is named in recognition of Dr. Hudson. In the mural, Dr. and Mother Hudson are seen standing in front of Blackburn’s most iconic building which still bears their name, and shaking the hands of students as they embark on life after Blackburn.