North Central College - Naperville, IL

College History

“By the time Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president of the United States, nearly two dozen private colleges and universities operated in Illinois. Most were church-related and intended for English-speaking men only. However, many northeastern Illinois residents were members of German-speaking immigrant families. No institutions of higher education addressed the needs of these men and women specifically.

“That changed in 1861.”

    --From North Central College: 150 Years. A Promising Start.

Plainfield College, as North Central first was known, opened its doors to 40 men and women soon after the start of the Civil War in 1861. Led by President Augustine A. Smith, a noted abolitionist and coeducation advocate, the College was founded by the Evangelical Association (now the United Methodist Church). 

The institution changed its name to North-Western College in 1864, then to North Central College in 1926. It moved from Plainfield to Naperville in 1870, bolstered by the town’s generous gift of $25,000 and eight acres of land.

Since then, both College and town have flourished. Naperville has grown from a rural community into a bustling city of 144,000 while retaining its friendly, small-town atmosphere; North Central has grown into a beautiful 61.5-acre campus nestled in the town’s Historic District.

Today U.S. News & World Report counts this independent, comprehensive college of the liberal arts and sciences among “America’s Best Colleges,” naming it one of the top six schools in the Midwest for its “strong commitment to undergraduate teaching.” Nearly  3,000 students choose from more than 55 undergraduate majors and seven graduate program areas. The College originally discouraged organized athletics as a distraction from weightier matters but now hosts 22 intercollegiate sports in NCAA Division III and the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW). North Central holds 30 team national championships and 38 consecutive CCIW men's cross country championships.

The campus buildings reflect both a proud history and an ambitious future. A renovated Old Main, displaying a cornerstone that was laid in 1870, stands tall at the heart of campus. Barbara Pfeiffer Memorial Hall, dedicated in 1926, features a 1,057-seat auditorium that continues to host a stellar lineup of performers and guests. The A.A. Smith House, built in 1885 by the family of the College’s first president, was renovated and donated to the College by Bart and Maricela ’99 Madden in 2008. Mid-century buildings include Oesterle Library, the Harold and Eva White Activities Center and the Kroehler Science Center. Recent construction includes the nationally acclaimed Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center and the innovative, LEED-certified Residence Hall/Recreation Center.

Over the past 150-plus years, only 10 presidents have led the College. This has provided the institution with an exceptionally strong continuity of vision. Today the College honors its past while preparing for an exceptional future.

“Throughout its first 150 years, North Central College weathered international crises as well as challenges closer to home. Through them all, it remained what A.A. Smith called ‘a great moral lighthouse, sending out a clear and steady light upon all subjects that pertain to the well-being of man in this world and the world to come.’

“...Smith’s vision for the College: ‘No school can long survive which is not responsive to the changing needs of students; neither can an educational institution succeed over the long term if it does not stand for and behind principles which are timeless and immutable.’

“May North Central long stand on these enduring principles.”

     --From North Central College: 150 Years. A Promising Start.