Ellsworth College was named for Eugene Stafford Ellsworth. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1848. His mother died in 1853 when he was six and his father entered politics in 1858 and was elected into the Wisconsin legislature. When the Civil War came, Orlando, Ellsworth father, like many politicians organized a volunteer infantry company, became Captain, and in 1862 went to war with the 24th Wisconsin taking Eugene, fourteen, with him as a drummer boy. A year and half of that was enough for Orlando, and he resigned his commission “for health reasons”. His son, being under age, had to leave the service as well. Orlando's health improved so himand Eugene(18) moved to Iowa Falls and started a livery business in partnership with Charles Foote.
Eugene Ellsworth spent less than a year attending Baily’s Business College in Dubuque, Iowa and was largely self-educated by reading books, newspapers, and magazines avidly. At this time Iowa Falls was rapidly developing as a railroad center, so there was a continual stream of easterners and immigrants into town requiring a multitude of services to get them started as farmers. Eugene began his own businesses: fur, provisions, and his own livery stable, as well as a real estate and farm loans.
The year 1872 was important in Mr. Ellsworth’s life. His father, who had been forced to retirement by poor health died. On September 25, Eugene married Harriet Northrop of Dows. They had one daughter Caroline, and a son, Ernest Orlando. Caroline, who went to Vassar, married a doctor and died in California in her retirement years without any children. Ernest, who served as a State Representative in the Iowa Legislature, ran the Metropolitan Theater and many of his father’s businesses, never married.
Mr. Ellsworth by this time had gone into partnership with Lewis Jones. Ellsworth and Jones based their business sale of farm land and farm finance, but that was only the beginning of their ventures, jointly, and individually. Some of Mr. Ellsworth’s public interest were Ellsworth Municipal Hospital (now known as Hansen Family Hospital), Ellsworth-Carnegie library, a golf course (Highland Golf Course), a zoological garden, and athletic park, and the Metropolitan Opera House.
Thomas Tobin was important to the beginning of Ellsworth as well. Tobin was born in 1835, Ireland to a large family. That family was orphaned 13 years later. After spending about a year with an older brother’s family and nearly starving, young Thomas came to New York with an older sister. The passage money was sent them by another brother for already in the United States. Thomas went to work as a farm laborer. One day when he was not working, a young daughter of the family asked him to read her a book. Although he was seventeen, the Irishman could not read, so the little girl taught him his “letters”. Thereafter he apparently went to country school for a couple winters. Then moved to Fort Edward and attended is Collegiate Seminary. Seven years, later when he was about twenty-give, he graduated. He become a Baptist minister, preaching in New York and Vermont. The Civil War began and Tobin tried at least three times to enlist, but was rejected because he was to skinny.
A friendly educator at Fort Edward told him that a Mr. J.S. Tilford of Vinton, Iowa, was looking for a man to start in institute or academy there. After some negotiations Tilford Academy was founded in 1870, a building was erected, and Tobin began his career as “Professor”. He moved to Iowa and invested all he had in the academy where he remained for fifteen years. Although he retained control of Tilford Academy through his family, in 1885 he went to Waterloo where he established Waterloo Collegiate Institute. Five years later his creative urge led Professor Tobin to Iowa Falls.
In 1890, Ellsworth began with a request by Thomas Tobin for a piece of ground and $3,000 or $4,000 and no ground. Tobin was granted a piece of ground on the north edge of town. Old Main was begun on June 6, 1890 and classes at the Ellsworth Academy began that fall with 50 students. There were business, “normal” (teacher education for 1 room school houses), common courses (equal to today’s high school class work).
Eugene Ellsworth was a significant funder for the first buildings. His mind was changed from thinking the academy should be a profit center and high school education system to a full-fledged private college in 1907. Ellsworth funded the men’s dorm North hall (where the current water tower stands), Caroline Hall (name for his daughter and where Gentle Student Center stands today), and matched funds to build an educational Carnegie Library on campus which is now Bullock Jones building. Iowa Falls is one of just a few towns to have a public and educational Carnegie library in the same town and is the smallest town to have two.
Eugene Ellsworth died on February 15, 1907 of a heart attack and is buried here in the cemetery west of the campus. He left farm ground to the college and the rent from that farm ground has helped to develop scholarships, purchase property for the college to expand on and funds marketing expenses and part of a staff positions at ECC. The farm ground is managed and held by the Ellsworth College Trustees.
As you now know that Ellsworth started out as an Academy, became a 4-year private college in 1907. And became a Jr. College in 1929. September 1949 Old Main was destroyed by fire. In 1950, Ellsworth worked with local school system and entered into an agreement that allowed the Iowa Falls superintendent of schools to be the college administrator. July 1968 became part of the Iowa Valley Community College District.