By Frank Wicks
The route to College Park Hall takes one across Seward Place and then through Roger Hull Place. Seward Place is named after in important alumnus. Roger Hull Place is named for the former Union College president. One of his achievements was upgrading and expanding student housing by restoring homes on Seward Place and converting a Ramada Inn into the Hall along with adjacent playing fields.
While Roger Hull has been retired from the Union College presidency for six years, he has remained a concerned citizen. He is now a candidate for mayor of Schenectady. He was on campus last Friday discussing city related issues as part of the “Pizza and Politics” program, along with retired political science professor Bryan Nichols.
I recall Roger Hull arriving at Union College twenty years ago, after serving for ten years as president of Beloit College in the small city of Beloit, Wisconsin. Roger talked about how he had worked with citizens of Beloit, and how he looked forward to new challenges. Surveys showed a major reason for accepted applicants not coming to Union College was the negative image of Schenectady.
After a long downward spiral and a slow upward slog, students have found downtown Schenectady has almost magically become an exciting and vibrant place. It has been a team effort. High on the list of credits should be Roger Hull for his early leadership and support for Schenectady 2000, Proctors, the Metroplex and many smaller businesses and cultural enterprises.
Returning to Seward Place, it was mostly forgotten that it was named after Union College alumnus William Seward. He had become governor of New York at the age of 37, an abolitionist and a United States senator. Abraham Lincoln became president by narrowly defeating Seward in the 1860. Lincoln subsequently recruited Seward to serve as Secretary of State.
Seward was a vital partner in winning the Civil War and preserving the Union. He was seriously wounded by the John Wilkes Booth led conspiracy that took the life of Lincoln. Seward slowly recovered. His last notable achievement was negotiating the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia.
Roger Hull’s Seward Place project renewed appreciation of this heritage. The class of 2000 raised funds for a monument to Seward. The inscription is mounted on a boulder that was transported from the Seward Highway that connects the Alaskan harbor town of Seward to Anchorage.
The Seward monument is appropriately located on the corner of Seward Place and Nott Street, which is named to honor Eliphalet Nott. He served a record 62 years as president of Union College, while being admired nationally as an educational innovator, philosopher, scientist and inventor.
It was also Roger Hull who oversaw the restoration of the iconic sixteen sided Nott Memorial building that graces the center of the Union College campus. It is often used for promotional images of Schenectady. It had deteriorated because it served no purpose. Roger Hull also saw the need for purpose. The splendidly restored building provides a unique study space and a spectacular venue to host conferences and exhibits.