Photography and text by George Cassidy Payne
During a recent excursion to the Capital District, I paid a quick visit to Union College in Schenectady, NY. Known as the “Mother of Fraternities,” as three of the earliest ones were established there, Union has grown to be one of the nation’s truly outstanding liberal arts institutions. Union is also unique because it started as the first non-denominational college in America.
At a time when rival schools such as Harvard and Yale were heavily influenced by the denomination of their founders (Baptist in their case) nearly 13 sects in this growing city on the Mohawk River came together to found a college free of any specific religious affiliation. For the time, that declaration of educational freedom was revolutionary in the United States. The school quickly became a bastion of free thinking, one that pioneered the teaching of science alongside and within the humanities.
No single individual better represents the core mission of Union than Eliphalet Nott, the school’s imaginative and illustrious president from 1804-1866. And no other building on the sublime campus is as splendid as the memorial named after him.
Situated in the center of Rugby Field, the 16- sided Nott Memorial is one of the most stunning Victorian buildings in the country.