Frederick Lewton: Recollections of Early Days at Rollins College

                       Rollins students and faculty at Lakeside Cottage, 1889-1890

Frederick Lewton (pictured above, next to the young man with the oars) was one of the College’s first students, enrolling in the fall of 1886.  In 1954, during a program celebrating the founding of Rollins, he read some reminiscences from his student days; we hope he would have been pleased to serve as a “guest blogger” and have them shared here, with some photos from our collections.

Mr. Lewton began his talk by recalling the changes on campus as the College’s first buildings appeared:  Knowles Hall, Pinehurst Cottage, and the Dining Hall, all of which were completed in 1886.   He continued:

The fourth building constructed on campus was Lakeside Cottage.  It was not completed until a few weeks before the second year of the College began on October 5, 1886.  Only a few rooms were furnished at first, just enough for the men and boy students who were from out of town.

Professor J. H. Ford and his wife were in charge of the cottage they made us happy and comfortable.  We younger students felt we were lucky because with the Ford daughters, Ruth and Gertrude, in the cottage, it was almost like home. . .

Professor of Greek John H. Ford (on the right), with Music Professor Ida Hubbard and Rollins Treasurer Henry  Huntington at Pinehurst Cottage, 1891

In those early days all class rooms were in Knowles Hall, in which were the administration offices, chapel, and later on, the library.  I earned my tuition expenses by ringing the great chapel bell, from rising time at 7 AM until 11 PM for all lights out, with rings for the study periods and meals in between. 

                      Knowles Hall, circa 1888 [destroyed by a fire in 1909]

There was as yet no electricity and all buildings were lighted with kerosene lamps.

After the lean-to kitchen at Pinehurst was vacated, it became the College’s infant library.  When the library was moved to Knowles Hall in February 1887, it was turned over to the Chemistry professor.

Equipment for the chemical laboratory was very meagre, so that we students, under Professor Norman J. Robinson, made much of our own apparatus.  Beakers were made by cutting off the tops of bottles.  This was done by wrapping around a turn of strong cord at the desired place, sawing the cord back and forth to make a hot ring around the bottle, then plunging the bottle into cold water, and ‘click’ the top came off instantly.

English with Professor Annie Morton, and Mathematics with that fine old whiskered gentleman, Professor Nathan Barrows, are remembered as meaning really hard work, but enjoyable class work.  My greatest delight as a student was in the subject of Natural Science, directed by Professor Eva J. Root, who opened to us the scientific side of the plants and animals that most of us already knew.  [Note:  Miss Root is the woman on the lower right, in the above photo at Lakeside Cottage.]  The class in Astronomy, also taught by Professor Root, had the use of a fine telescope, the gift of George R. Lyman of Minneapolis.  By its use we were taught to recognize and name all the stars of the first magnitude. 

Discipline was strict at Rollins in those early days.  All lights on the Campus were out at eleven PM., and no one was supposed to leave his room after that hour.  One night I was out of bounds and caught my first sight of the beautiful constellation Leo, then not observable until after one or two AM.  In the Astronomy class the next day I was about to express my joy of my first view of Leo, when I realized that to prevent discipline, I must needs curb my enthusiasm. 

Frederick Lewton (far left) with his Astronomy class in 1890. Professor Root is looking into the telescope.

Neither tobacco nor liquor was allowed on the Campus, nor were cards permitted. 

One of the teachers kept a ‘Demerit’ book, which I have found in the old records.  Some of the causes for demerits noted in this book are:

     Absence from class

     Absence from chapel

     At railroad on Sunday

     Talking in class

     Out of room study periods

     Leaving campus at night

     Throwing water on beds

     Stealing oranges



     Playing cards

     Dirty room

A 16 year old Jacksonville boy who accumulated 67 demerits in his first 7 weeks, was sent home; also a Miami boy was dismissed since he picked up 39 demerits in his first month, mainly because he was found to have been out all night 5 times.

The Book of Demerits and a sample record for a student who had been smoking, “out of his room,” and “swearing at Stetson game” (an infraction costing 5 demerits, which were later erased) In 1889, when Mr. Lewton attended Rollins, any student receiving 20 demerits during a term would be “removed from the school.”

Rollins was one of the early co-educational colleges, but here the discipline was also strict.  The boys and girls met in class rooms and at meals, but otherwise did not roam about the Campus.  The boys could visit the girls’ dormitory on Friday evenings, and sit in the parlor, could also accompany the young ladies to church and then straight home again on Interlachen Avenue.  While President Hooker was a strict disciplinarian he was a very kindly gentleman.  He gave time and permission for lots of good fun.  There were picnic parties to Wekiva Springs, boat trips on the lakes and through the run between Lakes Osceola and Maitland.  Before the present canal was cut through it was quite an achievement to navigate a boat load of girls through the run with its many cypress knees and moccasin snakes.

Frederick Lewton at the oars during a boating party on Lake Virginia in 1889.  His sister, Ivy, is on the far right.

Now, when I see the comradeship of boys and girls on the Campus, holding hands or arm in arm, I think of the contrast with student life at Rollins 68 years ago.


After leaving Rollins in 1890, Frederick Lewton had a varied career, working as a botanist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and later as the Curator of Textiles and Medicine at the U.S. National Museum.  He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Rollins in 1930, standing on stage beside another honorary degree recipient:  Thomas Edison.

Frederick Lewton, 1930

Mr. Lewton became the College’s part-time archivist in 1954.  In a brief autobiography he wrote, “My student days in Rollins in its early period, and my youthful life in Florida give me a rich background of memories which I find most helpful in my present work for the college.”

Frederick Lewton, from the 1958 Tomokan yearbook

He served as the College archivist until his death in 1959.  Mrs. Lewton later wrote fondly about her husband’s work in the Archives, saying, “He enjoyed it so much as he loved Rollins.”

To read more about Mr. Lewton, please visit our Golden Personalities page at .

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

4 thoughts on “Frederick Lewton: Recollections of Early Days at Rollins College

  1. I am always glad when I find a new entry on your site, Darla. Thank you! Each one teaches us something new and significant. I am embarrassed that I did not know about Frederick Lewton, to whom we all owe such a debt. Thank you for another fascinating account.

    1. Thank you, Thad! I was so pleased to find Mr. Lewton’s “Recollections,” and then to discover that he was in several wonderful photos we have from the 1880s. I’m very glad to be able to share them.

  2. Interesting boating picture with no one wearing life vest? I guess they weren’t that far off shore and may have been taken more for possible recreational activities at the college. The distant boat looks like a woman is rowing a man around the lake? Great post on a great college in Virginia!

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