Ch-ch-changes: the evolution of the College

Horses and carriages were a mode of transportation back in 1897, as seen circling student housing above.

The College you know today consists of 39 major buildings (excluding affiliated off-campus buildings) nestled together on 289 acres of land in an area of Ewing Township known as Hillside Lakes, with almost 7,000 students enrolled. This would all be unrecognizable to the College’s original students and faculty however — our school has a long history of change.

The original campus was not at 2000 Pennington Road in Ewing, but at what is now 159 North Clinton Ave. in Trenton. The old buildings have since been demolished, but the location can easily be found at what is now Grant Elementary School, constructed in 1938. If you’ve been to the Trenton Transit Center on South Clinton Avenue, you’ve been near this area.

It is common knowledge that “The College of New Jersey” is not the school’s original name, but did you know that there have been six names? The first was the New Jersey State Normal School. At the time, “Normal School” was the name given to teaching schools in the U.S., and Trenton’s was the first in the state and among the first 10 in the nation.

According to the Trenton Historical Society, the Normal School opened its doors on Oct. 1, 1855 at Trenton City Hall, quickly moving to temporary accommodations at a building on the corner of Hanover and Stockton Streets. Meanwhile, the Normal School’s first building was constructed on North Clinton Avenue, costing $17,000. The new building’s first class consisted of only 43 students, and there was no tuition fee for those who agreed to teach for at least two years in N.J. after graduation. Records show this policy remained for decades.

Additions were made to the campus during this time, including boarding halls, a gymnasium and auditorium. In 1908 the school’s name

The College is barely recognizable from its days as the State of New Jersey Normal School.

was elongated to New Jersey State Normal School in Trenton after other normal schools were established in the state. In 1929, however, the school began offering a B.S. in education, and the name was accordingly changed to State Teachers’ College and State Normal School at Trenton. This name was even shorter-lived, being changed again in 1937 to New Jersey State Teachers College at Trenton. Normal schools were becoming a thing of the past.

While the College underwent name changes, the board of trustees decided it was time for a bigger campus. The current location in Ewing was purchased in 1928 with construction beginning right away. By the mid-1930s, the former campus was vacant.

In 1958 the board decided to change the school’s name again — to Trenton State College. “TSC” was a well-rounded college by this point, offering more than just teaching degrees. Nevertheless, in 1996, the name was at last changed to The College of New Jersey (despite protests from students, alumni, faculty and others). Officials at the time said they wanted to embrace state pride and become less locally focused. Various personal websites and bloggers claim that the real reason was to separate the school from the negative reputation the city of Trenton had developed by that point.

Today you can still see remnants of the past: Many alumni lovingly refer to the College as Trenton State, more than a few Trenton State shirts show up on homecoming and numerous books in the library are stamped with former names of the College (depending on when they were put in circulation). Feel pride in your school and treasure your time here, for you too are part of a history that will continue long after you have graduated.