our local history

1800s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s - present  

The establishment of the residence:  1900

The purchase of the Rowland House in 1896 marked the beginning of the chapter as we know it today.  Owning property has always been a stabilizing influence -- a commitment to permanency, and so it was with Beta Theta.  Now the members, present and past, had a home to rally around.  Brotherhood was now more than an intellectual challenge, it was also a lifestyle.  More members were initiated and much more spontaneous fellowship naturally occurred.

The attention of the brotherhood turned to more social functions which could not readily be held at the chapter house.  Responsibility was placed upon the brothers for house maintenance, meals and social functions.  The acquisition of the chapter house was the fulfillment of a long-held dream.

Functions in the early house included many familiar things: pledge chores, house meetings, alumni gatherings, college athletics and academics.  Still, however, the emphasis remained on intellectual excellence and much of the house meeting agenda was devoted to debate and literary discussion, probably of a different nature than those of us now recall.  Regardless, we would find more commonality than difference with these early brothers, for they set the tone of “strength through diversity” which remains the hallmark of Beta Theta at Colgate.


The membership at this time numbered 20-25 where it remained for many years.  Brothers represented the Beta house on the football field, in debate and oratory, in music organizations, and in Phi Beta Kappa. Beta Theta made it well known at Colgate that Beta Theta Pi was clearly the “singing fraternity”.  The Beta quartet was the toast of the college for many years.  Indeed, the Colgate Alma Mater was first sung on the front porch of the Beta house.  Beta established close ties with faculty of the college in these years through long time friends and brothers.  Professors Shepardson, Greene, and Crawshaw, often visited the house for supper and fellowship.  In 1906, when every student began the day with chapel, there were 18 Betas on the faculty at Colgate.  Most of the students aspired to teaching or preaching as vocations.

Rushing occurred in the fall and the new initiates lived in the house the same year.  It was their duty to do most of the maintenance around the house and in general, make life easier on the upper classmen.  The rush was as competitive then as now and the brothers were instructed to “tell the frosh all the lies you can think of about the other societies”.  Some pre-frosh were pledged while still in high school -- especially those living nearby in central New York.  The old Colgate Academy (a prep school which was located across from the Beta house) was a good supplier of prospective Betas.

Parties were important to the chapter members and took place on several occasions.  Informal “teas” were held at frequent times to honor members of the faculty or student body, but the times everyone looked especially forward to were the winter term party and the spring party -- college wide affairs which attracted everyone from near and far.

One of Beta’s social highlights was the spring initiation banquet usually held at a nearby hotel and which always boasted an impressive toast list, e.g.:


Toast Master -- C.W. Smith (Twister)

Colgate U. -- Pres. W.H. Crawshaw '87

Beta Loyalty -- Prin. F.L. Shepardson, Brown '83

Welcome -- Clause F. Switzer '09

Does It Pay? -- Roy Edmund McGacon, Boston '04

 67th Convention -- Evan D. Boardman '09

New Sons Respond -- Freeman A. McIntyre '12

The house took strong steps to encourage scholarship in 1911.  It was made house policy that any member behind in his college work, as evidenced by low grades or other unsatisfactory achievement, would not be allowed to play cards or attend social functions until his work had been brought up to the men’s average for the college!  Apparently these kinds of measures were successful.

In a 1912 review of the eastern districts, the district chief of our district noted:  “Phi Beta Kappa keys and badges of other honor societies are in most cases conspicuous by their absence.  Colgate, however, is a marked exception, having had eleven keys among fifty-nine graduates, a percentage far better than all of the other chapters combined.”