Time capsule provides glimpse of College in 1931

During the renovation of Green Hall, a time capsule from 80 years ago was found, containing items such as an old copy of The Signal. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

Many details of the College’s history have not been well-preserved over the years, but the recent discovery of a time capsule from 1931 proves this hasn’t been for lack of effort. The items in the small metal box (found in the cornerstone of Green Hall by construction workers over the summer) have suffered decay, but the time capsule itself still provides a rare firsthand look back in time.

Alongside what appears to be the construction plans for Green Hall and an annual report for the College, a scroll thanking the State Board of Education for the name “James M. Green Hall” was discovered in the time capsule. Head of Reference Librarian Patricia Beaber said the scroll appears to have been entirely hand-printed and painted.

Perhaps the item students today can relate with most of all is a copy of The Signal from May 6, 1931. One of the top headlines is appropriately the announcement of the Green Hall cornerstone being laid that upcoming Friday. The laying of the cornerstone was quite a big deal at the time, particularly because esteemed Columbia University professor Nicholas Murray Butler and then governor of New Jersey Morgan F. Larson were in attendance.

The year 1931 was a big deal for the College. The Hillwood Lakes campus (our current campus) had been purchased three years earlier in 1928, and the College was in a time of transition from old to new. The academic year ending in 1931 was the last time the entire College community was based in Trenton. That September then became the first time the new campus was occupied by students; half of the freshman class went to Hillwood Lakes and the other half joined the older classes at the Trenton location on Clinton Avenue.

A newspaper clipping, featuring a photo of the corner-stone laying ceremony, is displayed along with the items of the recently discovered capsule. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

Although the campus was still under construction and had primarily dirt roads, instead of paved ones, the State Teachers College and Normal School Report of 1930-1931

reflected excitement about the move to a place where “the noise and dirt of city surroundings will be entirely absent.” Within a few years, the former urban campus was entirely vacant.

Anyone who wishes to view the time capsule display can find it in a glass cabinet in the reference section of the library. Go quickly, however. According to Beaber, the display will be taken down after another week or so, and the scroll will be sent to a restoration business in Philadelphia so that it can be restored to its original state and preserved. Beaber said it will then be put on a more permanent display, likely in Green Hall “where it belongs.”

Definite plans have not yet been made for the other items, although The Signal issue will likely be thrown out as the library has a much better-kept copy of it in its archives collection.

While the unexpected discovery of the time capsule suggests there could very well be similar boxes hidden within the walls of the College’s other buildings (Beaber said there may be one in Roscoe L. West), the most recently installed time capsule is in the library’s basement lobby. Look for the circular metal seal in the floor, and you’ll see the cover of a capsule placed for the College’s sesquicentennial in 2005 — just another reminder that we are all part of a long history that will endure many years into the future.