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‘Highest’ education celebrates its centennial in Gunnison

Brief by Central Staff

History – May 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

Western State College in Gunnison planned to celebrate its centennial on April 16 with a picnic that had live music and some drawings for prizes.

It was on April 16, 1901, that Gov. James B. Orman signed a bill passed by the Colorado General Assembly which appropriated $2,500 to establish “the Normal School at Gunnison.”

Construction did not start until 1909 for the first building, Taylor Hall. The first classes met there in 1911 with 11 students and 12 faculty — a ratio that even Harvard doesn’t match now.

A normal school is an institution for training teachers, rather than a place that one might attend in order to learn to be normal (some of us could have used one of those). The normal comes from the first such college, the École Normal in France, where it was supposed to set the standard, or “norm,” for teacher training.

As you might have guessed, Normal, Illinois, is where that state established a normal school.

One story we’ve heard, but haven’t been able to confirm, is that the big W for Western on the hillside above Gunnison was originally an N for Normal, and a leg to make it a W was added when the school became Western State College.

Western was the first college on the Western Slope of Colorado, and it certainly offers a “higher education” — at 7,703 feet, it is the highest four-year college in the United States.

The highest two-year school, of course, is the Colorado Mountain College Leadville campus.