Over the summer, Payne Gate, which is the main entrance to the campus, received extensive renovations. The major area of renovation was the 67-ton Indiana limestone monument to John Howard Payne, a famous Union dropout.
Payne was a student of Union, which during his time was “Stone College,” from July 1806 to November of 1808. Prior to Union, Payne demonstrated a pleasure for socializing rather than commitment to his studies.
Fearing the path of his son, William Isaacs Payne decided to send his son away to college in hopes he would focus on his academics.
Faye Dudden in the “Encyclopedia of Union College History,” commented, “Payne’s journey to Schenectady in the summer of 1806 indicated the magnitude of the task; he idled along the way and managed to run up over ninety dollars in ‘tavern debt’ before he even arrived at school.”
Payne, who was 15 upon entrance at Union, cared very little for schooling. According to Dudden, Payne regarded each term at the college as the equivalence of a prison sentence. He shared many complaints common today, including the unbearable winter cold and lack of good food. While he may not have overtly enjoyed his time at Union, he did leave his mark in several ways.
During the winter and spring of 1807, Payne wrote and published “The Pastime,” a journal aimed for his peers. The journal, which was an attempt to make some extra money, included his poetry, essays and opinions on political issues. Payne also participated in the Adelphic literary society.
By the fall of 1808, Payne’s father fell on tough financial times and John Howard decided to leave school and pursue a career in acting. Payne’s early years as an actor proved successful; however, he found his stride in theater production and writing plays.
Some of his most notable work includes “Brutus, of the Fall of Tarquin,” writing adaptations of at least sixty-four French plays, and helping write lyrics and melodies for the 1823 operetta “Clari, or the Maid of Milan.” The most well known ballad in the 1823 play, which garnished him everlasting fame, was “Home, Sweet Home.”
According to Union’s website, “The song’s popularity is the primary reason that for more than a century, an 18-foot-tall stone monument to Payne has welcomed those who enter campus off Union Street.”
The main entrance to the college was built in 1911 and was named in honor of John Howard Payne. Prior to the construction of the Payne Gate, the Blue Gate served as the primary entrance onto campus. However, with the construction of several new buildings on campus, the Blue Gate proved to be less convenient.
According to the “Encyclopedia of Union College History,” Cornelius E. Franklin, Class of 1884, suggested to Union President Charles Alexander Richmond in 1910 to erect a new entrance for the campus. Richmond quickly grabbed hold of the idea to make the campus more appealing and better define its borders.
The gate, which was designed by George B. Post and Sons, was officially dedicated at the 1911 Commencement.
In 1913, a bronze tablet was placed on the inner face of the central post with all four stanzas of “Home, Sweet Home.” Unfortunately for Payne, he received no royalties for the popular song.
Describing the restoration efforts to the gate, Director of Facilities Services, Loren Rucinski, commented on Union’s website, “We’re calling it a restoration, but it’s really a replication.”
The project, undertaken by Adam Ross Cut Stone and AJS Masonry Co., required for almost each piece of old stone to be taken away and replaced by almost identical stones from Indiana. This demanding month-long project, according to many on campus, makes the gate appear as if it was in 1911.