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The year was 1849. Zachary Taylor was president of the United States; there were but thirty stars on the U.S. flag; and the U.S. Constitution had only twelve amendments. Mark Twain was fourteen years old, and living many of the adventures that he would later write about; composer Peter Tchaikovsky was nine years old; Adolphus Busch, patriarch of Anheuser-Busch beer empire was only ten; and Thomas Edison was a mere two years old. Herman Melville was working on his novel Moby Dick; prospectors flooded California hoping to strike-it-rich in the Great Gold Rush; and the first baseball game would not be played for another twenty years. The population of the world topped the one-billion mark for the first time; the population of the United States was a sparse 23 million; and the State of Indiana had fewer than one million residents. Indiana University was celebrating its twenty-fifth year of classes; the enrollment of I.U. was about 45 men; and the Indiana Alpha Chapter of Phi Delta Theta was founded.
Truly, the world the founders of Indiana Alpha knew was far different from our own. However, knowing what that world was like can give us a better understanding of the long tradition which we, as members of this Chapter, are a part.
The long history began when John McMillan Wilson, one of the original founders of the parent chapter at Miami University, visited Indiana in search of a few men of good character to start a chapter of Phi Delta Theta in Bloomington. He selected two brothers in the senior class, Robert G. Elliott and Samuel S. Elliott, and initiated them into the fraternity. The two Elliott brothers along with Wilson are considered the founding fathers of Indiana Alpha. After their initiation, the Elliotts procured a charter, prepared by Wilson and S. R. Matthews of Miami, dated October 11, 1849, making this the second chapter of Phi Delta Theta and the second at I.U. (the first was Beta Theta Pi in 1845). Even though his Bond number was only 14, tradition has held that the first man initiated after the granting of a charter was Rev. Nelson H. Crowe of the class of 1851.
For a dozen years, the chapter existed as an underground society and had to resort to various schemes to avoid detection. In the early years, meetings were held after midnight in an upper room at the old Seward Foundry or, weather permitting, in the woods. The Seward Foundry was located on North Walnut Street a block north of the square-today that site is a vacant lot next to the Bluebird night club. When a society known as the "know-nothings" order took possessions of the Foundry, the chapter began holding its meetings in brothers' private rooms.
In was in the early 1870's that Indiana Alpha saw her crisis. Dissensions arose among the member, and several men resigned or were expelled. The cause of the dissension was 'dishonesty' and 'lifting' by members. For more than a year, Indiana Alpha was one man, Alfred W. Fullerton (1873). He endured the crisis and ensured the continued existence of the chapter.
During the last part of the nineteenth century and the early part of this century, the brothers of Indiana Alpha lived in many different houses. Generally, the Brothers would rent out a privately-owned house to use as a Chapter house. The first of these sites is believed to have been located on Kirkwood Avenue near Indian Avenue (the location of the Von Lee Theatre, today); another site was on East Third Street.
In 1904 or 1905, the chapter decided to acquire a true 'Chapter House'-a place where the Brothers could call home. A search was initiated to find a house this chapter could purchase, but no suitable structure was available, so the Chapter decided to build its own house. These plans were abandoned when a house, that far exceeded all of the Brothers' desires for a chapter house, became available for purchase. That house was known as the "old Harry Axtell farm", named for the wealthy Bloomington businessman who once owned it, and was located on the large slate at Tenth Street and Jordan Avenue. In 1913, Indiana Alpha purchased that property, from the owner at that time, Mrs. Madeline Wylie, for $15,000.
The house quickly earned the title of "The Country Club", because it was located so far away from the rest of the campus. In 1913, the only structures on campus were the Kirkwood Observatory and the buildings now known as Wylie, Owen, Maxwell, Kirkwood, Lindley, Franklin, and Swain Halls-all of which were and are a fair distance from Tenth and Jordan. The land that houses nearly all the building that comprise the campus we know today was all farmland and woodlands at that time.
The selection of that site proved to be an advantageous locale in the long run, as the university began to expand to the northeast toward the "Country Club". In 1925, the University completed construction on "old" Memorial Stadium on Tenth Street just west of the Phi Delt House (where the Arboretum is now). The Phis could actually watch I.U. football games from atop the Chapter House because it was located on a hill that overlooked the Stadium.
"Old" Memorial Stadium was used for football until 1960 when the "new" Memorial Stadium on Seventeenth Street was opened. After that, the "Tenth Street Stadium", as it was renamed, was used for the Little 500 bicycle race and later, also, for I.U. Soccer. When Bill Armstrong Stadium became operational for Soccer and Little 500 in 1981, the Tenth Street Stadium was torn down, and the "Arboretum" was created. In the Arboretum today there are two flag pillars, which were once the corners of the Stadium, and are all that remains of it.
After World War II, the university experienced a period of unparalleled growth. To meet the demand brought on by a massive increase in enrollment, I.U. embarked on a program to build many new residence halls, classrooms, buildings, and various other structures. Included in this program was a plan to build a larger library to house an expanding collection that had outgrown its home, which was the building we now call Franklin Hall (Student Services Building). The land the university chose for its new library was the large lot on the corner of Tenth Street and Jordan Avenue, the address of the "Country Club". The Phis did not want to give up their house and their prime location, but what the University wants-the University gets.
In exchange for surrendering their property, Indiana Alpha could choose any lot on Jordan Avenue north of Fee Lane to build a new home. A lot on North Jordan was offered because I.U., in its long-term plan, had reserved this section of campus exclusively for Greek housing. Indiana Alpha chose the largest lot on North Jordan (actually, the size of two lots). This locale was, also, attractive to Phi Delta Theta because it was located atop a hill in the middle of the street.
In 1955, construction of the Phi Delt house we call home was completed, becoming the first house located on North Jordan. Our Chapter House was built with an architectural style that would present a strong image to all that received her, and would glorify the medieval chivalric ideas that we hold dear. Thus, today we have "The Castle of Phi Delta Theta."
As Indiana Alpha approaches her 160th birthday, she is as strong as ever. The Chapter has stood by as the world had changed dramatically. She has seen the Western expansion, the Industrial Revolution, the great Depression, and the Computer Age; she has stood while man has invented the automobile, the airplane, the television, and the nuclear bomb; and she has seem men build a nation, conquer polio, and walk on the Moon. She has seen her members go on to be leaders in education, sports, business, and politics, and she has seen her sons fight and give their lives in combat from the Civil War to two World Wars to Vietnam. Indeed, Indiana Alpha has seen many faces come through her doors-she has seen good and bad. But she has stood to provide a place where young men could develop and grow. The one constant through all these years has been the quality of men who have called Indiana Alpha "home".
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