Tuesday, March 5, 2013

History of Stevens Class Visits Burial Site

This semester the Library is collaborating with Professor Lee Vinsel's class Thinking Stevens: The History of A Family, A School, and a City  to share and educate students about the rich history of the Stevens family and the Institute in general. This is the first time the class has been offered and students are working on projects that will utilize the library's archives.

As part of Founder's Day, Prof. Vinsel's class visited the burial site of many of the Stevens Family. This trip was sponsored by the College of Arts and Letters and greatly assisted by the Athletics department for lending a van for transport.

Assistant Curator Doris Oliver was able to locate two documents in the archives pinpointing that the family was buried in Hoboken Cemetery. The first document was an article from the Jersey Journal (below). Do not let the name fool you, however - the cemetery is located in North Bergen approximate 4.4 miles away.

On the ride to the cemetery Prof. Vinsel explained how the cemetery had been owned by the Stevens Family and was previously a orchard.  Once we arrived beyond a gated stone entrance, the class walked up a snow covered short hill to an area that was bordered by a stone wall and sloped down a hill. This was was the location of the Stevens Family burial site.

To help us find where particular family members are buried, we used a map from the library archives:

The burial site was lined with celtic crosses, making reference to the Stevens Family's Scottish Heritage. The burial site was well-tended and in surprisingly good shape considering the age of the cemetery.  The group walked around the site reading the names on the tombstones. At the bottom of the hill we found the burial site of Basil Stevens and toward the top of the hill, we were able to discover the cross for the burial site of Edwin A. Stevens, the founder of Stevens Institute of Technology.

After our group had some more time to explore and reflect, Prof. Vinsel gathered us together to pay respects. Student and Library worker Owen Jappen read a prepared statement in honor of the founder of Stevens:

Edwin Stevens was born on July 28th, 1795. Among the Stevens, Edwin was the peacemaker. Surrounded by men who built, invented, and raced boats, sturdy and reliable Edwin kept the ship steady. In a family of engineers and sportsmen, Edwin quietly tended to the family's land and real estate and kept their businesses on course. In the process, he helped transform Hoboken from a place of swamps and marshland to a modern city. Together with his wife Martha Bayard Stevens, Edwin created many charitable and community institutions, including churches, schools, an orphanage, and the public library. When Edwin died in 1868, his will provided that, within three years of his death, his executors should "establish the institution for the benefit, tuition, and advancement in learning of the youth residing, from time to time hereafter, within the State of New Jersey." His executors decided that it should be a school of the mechanical arts, since the family had always struggled to find adequate technical knowledge for their ventures. And, so, on February 15, 1870, the Stevens Institute of Technology was incorporated as an institution of higher learning. Today is its 143rd anniversary.

On Founder's Day, we pay honor and tribute to Edwin A. Stevens and the entire Stevens family for having the integrity and vision to create the Stevens Institute of Technology, a place that has given us all the opportunity to grow, work, study, and learn. By laying these flowers here at Edwin's grave, we say thank you once again.

After the laying of the flowers by student Megan Webb, students went around the graves to take impressions of the names that couldn't be made out. Prof. Vinsel said that "most of the students who went on this trip were upper classmen who have a strong sense of school pride, and they realize their formative experiences here would not have been possible without Edwin A. and Martha Bayard Stevens. Going on this trip allowed them to feel a new and deeper sense of connection with the Stevens family."

In the coming months this blog will have student contributions based on the research the students have done in the library archives.  If you would like to see a Research Guide for this class you go here

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