In 1955, the main building on the campus of the College of the City of New York was renamed Shepard Hall in honor of Edward Morse Shepard, the political reformer who died on Lake George in 1911.
Shepard graduated from City College in 1869 and was the chairman of its Board of Trustees from 1904 until his death.
When the building was renamed in his honor, Shepard had been dead for more than forty years. Presumably, his contributions to the institution were far greater than those of the average college trustee.
And according to Sidney Van Nort, who oversees City College’s archives and special collections, Shepard’s spirit pervades the campus, whether today’s students acknowledge that or not.
“He was among those responsible for moving the campus from 23rd Street to its current uptown location and for choosing the architect, George B. Post, who designed the campus’ Neo-Gothic buildings,” said Van Nort.
Shepard envisioned City College as a seedbed for civic leadership, and no less important, for democratic citizenship. That would require that everyone, regardless of class, race or religion, be given access to the best that the world has made, thought or seen. For Shepard, that “supreme ideal” is represented in the mural in the Great Hall, which he planned with the artist and his assistants.
When the building opened in 1906, he wrote that “the students of the College… will overflow into the life of the city, of the state and of the nation.”
It’s not surprising that Shepard hoped that City College would produce men like himself. Left fatherless at a young age, he used the free education available to him at City College to enter the law and become one of the foremost politicians of his era.
It’s equally clear that in the absence of a family of his own, his friends from City College fulfilled a similar function, even or especially on Lake George.
Every summer, Shepard would host dinners for Manhattan Camp, the summer retreat of his college fraternity at Sheldon Point on Lake George, and later on Elizabeth Island.
The camp was established at his suggestion. He first visited the lake as a boy of thirteen in 1863, and it remained a point of permanence and stability even as his political career rose and foundered.
As he wrote one month before his death, “In spite of the changes, Lake George is ever the same – beneath our eyes as in our hearts.”
Shepard was so devoted to his City College fraternity that he instructed the stone masons building Erlowest to carve Alpha Delta Phi’s shield above the entrance and his craftsmen to place its emblems within the stained glass windows, all still visible today.
Creating Erlowest was one of Shepard’s contributions to Lake George. Among his others was introducing George Foster Peabody to Lake George.
Shepard met Peabody in 1881, when the two of them helped form the Young Men’s Democratic Club in Brooklyn. Peabody bought a house on Lake George in 1891, the year Shepard began renting Westover Lodge. Peabody, in turn, brought Katrina and Spencer Trask, who established themselves on Three Brother Islands in 1906.
In 1910, at the request of some Lake George residents, Shepard became involved with an effort to preserve the site of the Lake House hotel, which had been demolished in 1904, as a public park. At a memorial service held at the site shortly after his death in 1911, it was proposed that it be purchased and dedicated to his memory. Today, Shepard Park in Lake George Village still bears his name.
It was reported that without that impetus (or Shepard’s inspiration), the project would never have been completed and the park’s land would have been purchased for a new hotel.
Peabody and the Trasks were the project’s largest donors, and since they were among Shepard’s closest friends, it’s safe to assume they understood why a public park would not only have appealed to him, but would represent his most deeply held, democratic values. For a park that would be accessible to everyone, regardless of income, made the pleasures of Lake George available to everyone.
“The city boy had an ardent fondness for outdoor life,” one of Shepard’s friends wrote after his death. Moreover, the park was intended to be a cultural and educational forum, hosting concerts and plays, lectures and political speeches. For that reason, the donors requested an amphitheater and stage as well as benches and walking paths.
Each year, when the Lake George jazz festival brings some of the best and most interesting musicians in the nation to Lake George at no cost to the audience, it’s just the sort of thing Edward Morse Shepard would have loved.
Photos, from above: Shepard Hall, City College, by Robert Kasmir; Edward Morse Shepard, by Fedor Encke, 1898; Inn at Erlowest; E.M. Shepard as a youth; Shepard Park amphitheater by Fred Thatcher.
A version of this story was first published in the Lake George Mirror.