This piece was originally published in the Finger Lakes Times on April 23, 2022.
There must be something about April. Geneva College, now Hobart and William Smith, received its provisional charter from the State of New York on April 10, 1822. Seventy-five years later, nearly to the day, Geneva was designated a city. This month, as HWS and Geneva each celebrate these remarkable milestones, it is worth remembering that the Colleges and the local community have reached them because of the special relationship we share.
That relationship stretches back to the decades after the American Revolution, when residents of the vibrant village at the north end of Seneca Lake decided to establish a school in 1796. It was Geneva Academy, along with the community that had founded it and the strategic and picturesque location, which attracted John Henry Hobart, the third Episcopal bishop of New York.
As part of his mission to expand the Episcopal Church into what was then known as “the West,” Bishop Hobart began visiting the Finger Lakes in the early 1800s. In Geneva, he found a community of 1,700 residents, 250 dwellings, two printing presses, a bank, a land office and the academy. With the financial and moral support of citizens and the school’s leadership, Bishop Hobart secured a grant from Trinity Church in New York City to endow the institution, elevating it from an academy to a college. Genevans funded and built the College’s first building, named Geneva Hall in their honor.
Over the following decades, the campus and the city have grown together, much like siblings: enduring the challenges imposed by the conditions of the country and the world, occasionally butting heads, and in the end, strengthening their close bonds. Genevans have propelled HWS to new heights in their roles as students, faculty, staff, alums, parents and friends. Likewise, the Colleges have become increasingly engaged in the life of the city through coursework, research and service, especially over the past 25 years. In countless ways, teaching and learning at Hobart and William Smith rely on the strengths and assets of Geneva — its diverse people and inspiring environment, its rich history and strong character. Geneva’s strengths are the Colleges’ strengths.
As we look back on the past 125 years and the past 200 years, what stands out is the shared sense of momentum that has led us here, fueled by what we might once have called the “town-gown” relationship. Days of Service, the Geneva Scholarship Associates, student teachers, summer interns, Geneva 2030 and so many other initiatives and collaborations: the reciprocal support and engagement between the city and the Colleges is worth celebrating during this dual anniversary year.
Joyce P. Jacobsen