Today, the Georgia State Quarter Coin remembers the state legislature approving the charter for the University of Georgia, the first state supported public university, on January 27, 1785.
The preamble of the charter makes an argument for education, but it took several years before the first students benefited.
Even then, the students met under an oak tree.
From A Historical Sketch of the University of Georgia by A. L. Hull, published in 1894:
The following year, 1785, a bill was introduced to complete the establishment of a “public seat of learning,” which was approved January 27, 1785, and constitutes the Charter of the University of Georgia. It is as follows:
As it is the distinguishing happiness of free governments that civil order should be the result of choice and not necessity, and the common wishes of the people become the law of the land, their public prosperity and even existence, very much depends upon suitably forming the minds and morals of their citizens.
When the minds of the people in general are viciously disposed and unprincipled, and their conduct disorderly, a free government will be attended with greater confusions and evils more horrid than the wild uncultivated state of nature.
It can only be happy where the public principles and opinions are properly directed and their manners regulated. This is an influence beyond the stretch of laws and punishments, and can be claimed only by religion and education.
It should, therefore, be among the first objects of those who wish well to the national prosperity to encourage and support the principles of religion and morality, and early to place the youth under the forming hand of society, that by instruction, they may be moulded to the love of virtue and good order.
Sending them abroad to other communities for their education will not answer these purposes, is too humiliating an acknowledgment of the ignorance or inferiority of our own, and will always be the cause of policy, it is inadmissible.
This country in the times of our common danger and distress, found such security in the principles and abilities which wise regulations had before established in the minds of our countrymen, that our present happiness, joined to the pleasing prospects, should conspire to make us feel ourselves under the strongest obligation to form the youth, the rising hope of our land, to render the like glorious and essential services to our country.
And, whereas, For the great purpose of internal education, divers allotments of land have at different times been made, particularly by the Legislature at their session in July, 1783, and February, 1784, all of which maybe comprehended and made the basis of one general and complete establishment.
The Architectural Record of July 1911 described more details of the early days of the University of Georgia:
A strict construction and a strict application of the criterion of seniority just announced would make the University of Georgia the oldest of the State universities, after that of Pennsylvania, and at least the oldest of the Southern universities.
For its charter was granted by the legislature in January, 1785, only some sixteen months after the signing of the treaty of peace with Great Britain.
It was a complete charter, on paper, with an appropriate preamble, setting forth that the “public prosperity and even existence” ( of free governments ) “very much depends upon suitably forming the minds and morals of their citizens,” with an elaborate apparatus of an official “Board of Visitors” and an unofficial “Board of Trustees,” together constituting a “Senatus Academicus.”
Only, having been thus circumspectly prepared, the instrument went to sleep and lay dormant for sixteen years before any procedures whatsoever were had to put it into operation.
40,000 acres of wild land had been originally allotted to the support of the university, but these were unsalable by reason of the imminence of Indian troubles on the frontier, where they lay.
Moreover, about a tenth of the tract had been, in 1787, ceded to South Carolina.
The constitution of 1798, by ordaining that the legislature should take effectual measures for the university, put life into the dead letter of the charter.
In 1799 the “Senatus Academicus” met for the first time, and in 1801 the university, then and long after know as “Franklin College,” began to function, upon a plot of 630 acres, presented to it by Governor Millege.
The architectural history of the institution is even shorter than its academic history, since it is recorded that the first classes “recited under the shade of a large oak,” a curious Georgian version of “the grove of Academe” ; and the first commencement was held under “an arbor, formed by branches of trees, upon the campus.”
The earliest buildings were provisional and of no architectural importance.
One of them was destroyed in 1830 by the fire which all three of them doubtless invited.
Though one of them, “Old College,” is still in use as a dormitory, one may suspect that it has subsisted so long largely as a basis for repairs.
The first “architecturesque” erections were “Ivy Hall” and the Chapel, in 1831, the architectural elements of the former being the Corinthian pilasters applied to a plain, gabled box. while the former was fronted with a portico which testifies that the correct Doric of the Parthenon had at length, in the course of the Greek Revival, arrived at the new Athens.
The showing that it had reached Augusta was made in the Medical College of that city, which really comes within our present purview since the institution, founded in 1822 as ‘”The Medical Society of Augusta, Georgia,” and in 1833, after some intermediate transmutations, converted into “The Medical College of Georgia,” became in 1873 a department of the university.
The building was erected in 1835, at a time when no other style than that of the Greek Revival was considered for a public building.
It is of no more monumental material than stuccoed brick, which indeed was the best that was available except for the public buildings then under construction in Washington, and for a few exceptionally pretentious edifices in the larger cities.
But it is grammatically correct in design and remains a seemly building, very much at home in its surroundings.
It is more successfully architecturesque than any of the buildings of the central institution, excepting the Chapel, which it resembles in having a pedimented hexastyle Doric portico, though the low cupola of the college, apparently denoting an interior rotunda, is changed in the Chapel to the crowning belfry which at that time, both North and South, was esteemed to be quite indispensable to a place of worship, and which was added to classic buildings, secular as well as religious, all over the country, with results often of a startling incongruity.
Not until the twentieth century was there any attempt to give architectural dignity to any other of the college buildings.
In 1904 the old library was combined with the “Ivy Building” similar to it in dimensions and design, by interposing between them a mediating and reconciling classic feature in the shape of a tetrastyle Corinthian portico.
The year before there had been added to the university what is doubtless its main architectural attraction, the new Library, a frankly modern building in the prevailing manner of the Beaux Arts, but treated with so much moderation and discretion that it is not incongruous with the older and less sophisticated neighbors with which it dwells together in amity.
The Georgia State Quarter Coin shows with an image of the Old Chapel, circa 1831.