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Henry R. Nicks


Founder of Kutztown University

Born 2/23/1833

Died 10/13/1903

Burial Date 10/17/1903

Henry R. Nicks

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Compliments of Hope Cemetery, Kutztown, Pa.


”Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool requested value of life They kept the noiseless tenor of their way,”

May the truth be said of Henry R. Nicks, whose sudden death on Tuesday morning at the home of his son-in-law, Nicholas M. Rahn, on Noble Street, where he resided since last spring, created genuine surprise and sorrow in town.

Mr. Nicks came to Kutztown in 1860 in the month of November and was closely identified with this section ever since. The common school system having been established in our borough in 1842, there were many of our citizens who desired an education for their children higher than that that which it imparted.
Toward the close of 1860 was begun a movement more important in its consequences. Rev. J. S. Herman applied to Rev. Dr. Gerhart, President of Franklin and Marshall College who recommended Prof. Henry R. Nicks, A.M., one of the graduates of that institution, He came here and opened Fairview Seminary in the house now occupied as a residence by Col. T. D. Fister and at that time occupied by his patron, Rev. Herman.

He taught there until the spring of 1863, when he moved his school into the borough. Through the influence of the Professor, who was a man of the finest scholarly attainments, some of the citizens of the town and Maxatawny Township, were induced to purchase five acres of land at $275 per acre and to erect on it a building at a cost of $ 1,100. This building, 50 X 40 feet, became in time the northern wing of the Keystone State Normal School.
In consideration of the deep interest, which the people of the township had manifested in the project, he changed the name of the school from Fairview to Maxatawny Seminary.

Into his new home Prof. Nicks moved in September 1864 and gathered about him able assistants. This formed the nucleus of the present-day stately Normal School. He saw that the common schools needed a corps of thoroughly competent teachers who should be skilled not only in the branches required by law to be taught but also in the art of instruction and discipline.

Prof. Nicks upon being consulted not only favored the enterprise of establishing a State Normal School, but gave it his hearty support and encouragement.
In 1865 the teachers of the county were collected in the Seminary for the purpose of Normal instruction but it was found too small to accommodate the students who flocked here from every part of the county and even from adjacent districts. The success of this movement inspired the people of Kutztown and Maxatawny to erect such a building as the school law required and to establish a regular State Normal School for the district.
Maxatawny Seminary, which was started as a private enterprise, disappeared. For the furniture and necessary improvements with which Prof. Nicks had provided it, he was compensated.
Its stock, buildings and grounds were transferred to a new board of trustees who purchased five additional acres of land and began operations on the additions to Maxatawny Seminary and the Keystone State Normal School was started.

Among those who received their start in higher education was the present State Superintendent of Public Instructions, Nathan C. Schaeffer, who was one of the Professor’s first students.
He taught in the new institution for a time when the trustees of Palatinate College at Myerstown elected him to the head of that institution which he excepted and made the institution a successful one. Owing to his ill health he resigned and took charge of a smaller institution, a seminary at Easton. His health continuing to fail he resigned and took to farming, at which he continued until last spring. Since his residence in town, his health, although precarious, permitted his daily presence on our streets. After breakfast on Tuesday morning he lay down on a lounge for a brief rest, and shortly afterward was found dead.

He married Sarah, a daughter of the late David Levan and his wife, of town. The Levan’s were among the earliest settlers in this section and his alliance with the family gave him additional prestige here.
The deceased is survived by his widow and three children: Mrs. Nicholas Rahn, Kutztown; D. Levan Nicks, Allentown, and Mrs. O. W. Sellers, Philadelphia.
The Funeral will be held this afternoon. Rev. E. H. Leinbach officiating. Interment will be made in Hope cemetery. All relatives and friends are respectfully invited to attend.
Patriot; 10/17/1903

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Born, February 27,1833 in Germany, Henry’s father, Melchior, brought him to the new world in 1842,at the age of nine. Henry was the founder and first principle of the School that was the pioneer of the Keystone State Normal School. Today Kutztown University
Henry R. Nicks came to America with his father in 1842. He worked on his father's farm in Adams County, attending school whenever opportunity offered, and teaching in his early manhood. In 1856, after strenuous endeavor, he was able to enter the junior class of Franklin and Marshall College, and graduated in 1858 with honors, being the salutatorian of his class. After graduating from college he continued to teach, filling important stations at Limestoneville and Mechanicsburg. Having the ministry in view he had commenced a course of study in the theological seminary at Mercersburg, when he was called, through Rev. Dr. E. V. Gerhart, to come to Kutztown and open a classical school. On Nov. 15, 1860, he located at Kutztown and opened what was known for a number of years as Fairview Seminary, in what is the beautiful mansion of Thomas S. Fister, immediately south of the borough. Here he began with five pupils, and for a period of months it was a severe struggle, and a problem as to the success of the venture, but hard work, sound scholarship and superior teaching ability won, and by the spring of 1861 the school had been placed in a flourishing condition and continued until pupils overcrowded the school quarters and the town became filled with boarding students. The success was phenomenal, and by 1863 Professor Nicks began to look around for permanent quarters, and through his efforts a sufficient amount was subscribed to erect what was known as Maxatawny Seminary, which stood where the Principal's office of the Keystone State Normal School is now located. These schools were the beginning of the Keystone State Normal School, and Professor Nicks was the real founder. He broke the soil and sowed the seed, and others came to reap. He led in the work of raising stock to enlarge the institution and turn it into a State Normal School, which his success inspired, there would to-day be no State Normal School at Kutztown. When the Normal School was organized in 1866 he accepted the position of associate principal and professor of higher mathematics, and filled same with great efficiency until 1867, when he accepted the principal ship of Palatinate College, Myerstown, Pa., now Albright College. This position he held for seven years, and during his incumbency the institution was in a very flourishing condition failing health however, compelled him to resign in 1874, and thus ended his career as a teacher. The remaining days of his life he spent on the farm, known as the old David Levan farm, where he died Oct. 16, 1903, and he lies buried in Hope cemetery. He was an educator of rare ability, untiring, thorough and, withal, tactful. He had few equals in the work of inspiring pupils with noble zeal and lofty ambition, and many there are who rise and bless him for his noble work. Professor Nicks married Sarah Levan, daughter of David and Lydia (Jarrett) Levan.

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