Luke McMurry and the University of Illinois

The Elephant, 1870Luke Robinson McMurry was a well-travelled and multifaceted person who had his fingers in a great many pies, as I continue to learn. I’ve noted elsewhere his childhood journey overland from Kentucky to Indiana, his migration to Illinois after marrying Elizabeth Miller, his appointment to the Executive Committee of the Agricultural Society of Effingham Countyhis wholesale millinery and straw goods business in Chicago, his founding of a narrow-gauge railroad in Effingham, Illinois, in 1867, his mysterious departure to Arkansas with his family, and his journey to the Washington territory with his sons several years after his wife died.

Thanks to an unexpected find—an entry for Luke in the University of Illinois’ 1916 publication, University of Illinois Directory: Listing the 35,000 Persons who have ever been Connected with the Urbana-Champaign Departments including Officers of Instruction and Administration and 1397 DeceasedI’ve recently learned of another enterprise he was involved in—the founding of the University of Illinois. In this volume, I found Luke’s name enumerated as a Trustee of the University of Illinois from 1867 to 1873:

UniversityOfIllinoisDirectory page 429 detail

What does it mean to be a Trustee of the University of Illinois? These days, there are 13 Trustees of the University of Illinois, and of the 10 non-student Trustees, one is the Governor of Illinois and the other nine are all appointed by the Governor to serve as a Trustee for a period of six years. As Luke also served six years, it’s possible that this procedure was the same in 1867 as it is today. To see if this is the case, let’s take a look at the history of the University of Illinois.

In July, 1862, the passage of the federal Morrill Land-Grant Act made large tracts of federal land available to each state for the founding of land grant colleges “to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts” (though “without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactic”), “in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” Illinois received 480,000 acres of federal land (worth $600,000 at the time), and was allowed to use interest gained on this land to fund the establishment of a college, as long as the state acted by July, 1867.

After much discussion at the state and local levels, a bill was introduced to the Illinois State Senate in January, 1867, for “an act to provide for the organization, endowment, and maintenance of the Illinois Industrial University,” to be located in Champaign, IL. On February 22, 1867, an amended bill was passed with provisions for the University, which was to be located in Urbana, IL. Trustees of the University were entrusted with the planning, construction, and opening of the University.

According to Frank William Scott’s 1906 publication, The Alumni Record of the University of Illinois at Urbana; Including Annals of the University and Biographical Notices of the Members of the Faculties and of the Board of Trustees,

Feb. 22—…The trustees were to be appointed by the Governor, with approval of the Senate, five from each grand judicial division, and one from each congressional district. They were to serve for six years, without salary, the first appointment to draw lots, one-third to serve two, one-third four, and one-third six years. The trustees were to elect a Regent to serve two years, a Treasurer, and a Recording Secretary and were to provide buildings, teachers, etc. Students were to be at least fifteen years old. Each county was entitled to a scholarship for descendants of soldiers and seamen. No degrees were to be conferred on graduates. The Regent, with the Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the President of the State Agricultural Society were to be ex-officio members of the Board. The instructors were “to teach in the most thorough manner such branches of learning as are related to Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts and Military Tactics, without excluding other scientific and classical studies.” The college year was to extend through six autumn and winter months so the students could go home for the six spring and summer months or stay at the University and pursue optional studies “provided that no student shall at any time be allowed to remain in or about the University in idleness, or without full mental or industrial occupation.” This Act passed the House by a vote of sixty-six to ten, the Senate by eighteen to seven, and was approved Feb. 28, 1867. The immediate result was a huge celebration in Champaign.
Mar. 8 — Passage of Supplemental Bill, providing that on the failure of the county authorities to comply with the requirements of the Act by June 1, the trustees were to locate the University at some other town. Trustees were appointed by Governor Oglesby as follows:

spacer1st Congressional District, David S. Hammond, Cook Co.
spacer2nd Congressional District, Luther W. Lawrence, Boone Co.
spacer3rd Congressional District, Horatio C. Burchard, Stephenson Co.
spacer4th Congressional District, John S, Johnson, Hancock Co.
spacer5th Congressional District, Samuel Edwards, Bureau Co.
spacer6th Congressional District, O. B. Galusha, Grundy Co.
spacer7th Congressional District, M. L. Dunlap, Champaign Co.
spacer8th Congressional District, Samuel Allen, Tazewell Co.
spacer9th Congressional District, Alexander Blackburn, McDonough Co.
spacer10th Congressional District, M. C. Goltra, Morgan Co.
spacer11th Congressional District, J. P. Hungate, Clay Co.
spacer12th Congressional District, Willard C. Flagg, Madison Co.
spacer13th Congressional District, A. M. Brown, Pulaski Co.

First Grand Judicial Division —
spacerL. R. McMurry, Effingham Co.;
spacerCharles Topping, Union Co.;
spacerThos. Quick, Washington Co.; and
spacerIsaac S. Mahan, Marion Co.

Second Grand Judicial Division —
spacerGeorge Harding, Edgar Co.;
spacerHenry Pickerel, Macon Co.;
spacerMason Braynian, Sangamon Co.

Third Grand Judicial Division —
spacerJohn M. Van Osdel, Cook Co.;
spacerJ. C. Burrough, Cook Co.;
spacerS. S. Havt. Cook Co.;
spacerEmery Cobb, Kankakee Co.; and
spacerRobert Douglass, Lake Co.

First meeting to be held in Springfield, Mar. 12, 1867.

According to the 1866 publication compiled by Samuel Treat, Walter Scates and Robert Blackwell, entitled The Statutes of Illinois, Embracing All of the General Laws of the State, Complete to 1865, with Marginal Notes, Showing the Contents of Each Section and a Reference to the Decisions of the Supreme Court upon the Construction of Each Statute,

Grand divisions

The first grand division for the election of judges of the supreme court shall consist of the counties of Alexander, Pulaski, Massac, Pope, Hardin, Gallatin, Saline, Williamson, Johnson, Union, Jackson, Randolph, Perry, Franklin, Hamilton, White, Wabash, Edwards, Wayne, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, St Clair, Clinton, Marion, Clay, Richland, Lawrence, Crawford, Jasper, Effingham, Fayette, Bond, Madison, Jersey and Calhoun.

In other words, the First Grand Judicial Division, from which Luke McMurry was one of four University Trustees, spanned the southern one-third of the state in 1867:


The Annals presented in The Alumni Record of the University of Illinois at Urbana; Including Annals of the University and Biographical Notices of the Members of the Faculties and of the Board of Trustees go on to discuss each meeting of the Board of Trustees and the most important decisions made at each. Interesting stuff, but since Luke isn’t mentioned by name, I’ll just provide links to the Annals in case you’re interested:

While more than half of the trustees had short biographies presented in the Annals of the University, this is all that was written for Luke:


Trustee, 1867-73.

By the time of the publication of The Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of the University of Illinois in 1918 (also available here in a new, full-color scan), Luke’s biography had been enlarged to the following:

1918 Alumni Record

Presumably the “‡” indicates that they knew he had already passed away by 1918.

Another official source—volume 1 of the Alumni Quarterly and Fortnightly Notes from October 15, 1915—notes that Luke had moved to Tumwater and was getting on in years:

1915 Alumni Quarterly

What it didn’t note was that he had died three and a half years earlier, in April, 1913. The official Roster of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, however, does note his correct date of death.

As a side note, I find it interesting that several of the sources that mention Luke’s role as a Trustee refer to his middle initial as “B” (like his father’s middle name, Benton) and not R (family historians have conveyed his middle name as either Robinson or Roberson). Is this a simple typo, or did Luke perhaps use his father’s middle name during this time period for the prestige it may have conferred?

Finally, I came across the following article, published in the Daily Illini on February 17, 1917 (the full paper for that day can be read here):

Portrait of Luke McMurry article

How exciting—the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign presumably still has a “picture” of Luke McMurry. It’s unclear whether this “picture” is an oil painting or a photographic print, but I intend to track it down to see if I can see it in any case.

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