The beginning of the Henrietta campus
Bill Barley (1964)
Why did RIT move to Henrietta?
RIT was located in downtown Rochester prior to the move to Henrietta in 1968. The downtown campus had served the school since 1885, and buildings were built as needed.
Enrollment grew steadily until the 1950s, when the school experienced an explosion of students after World War II. The number of students doubled between 1950 and 1960, and projections indicated more of the same in the foreseeable future. Existing facilities were strained, and in some cases, inadequate.
However, the board and RIT President Mark Ellingson agreed that growth was positive and integral to the institution’s mission to serve the community.
The discussion centered on how and where to grow. The institute had been acquiring land in the area surrounding the campus downtown but expansion in the area was very expensive.
Other exploration centered on searching for a site outside the city that would provide the required room for growth far into the future. The current site in Henrietta was a top choice.
Into this state of affairs came an announcement by the New York State Department of Public Works that a plan to improve traffic for the Inner Loop would entail knocking down the Eastman Building, the main administrative and classroom building.
Anxious to keep RIT downtown, the City Planning Commission made an impressive pitch, presenting a plan to eliminate deteriorated property in the Third Ward, and several hundred acres to take care of immediate space needs, ample housing for faculty, staff and students, and other amenities.
Then the state announced a new plan that would allow the Eastman Building to stay, but the Inner Loop would now divide the campus, appropriating 11 RIT buildings and isolating the Ritter-Clark gymnasium and ice arena. The city administration attempted to push the route further south and preserve the campus, but the state refused, citing engineering issues and expense.
In early 1961 RIT received an unexpected surprise–a gift of $ 3.27 million from Grace Watson, who had attended classes, but was unknown to the administration.
The Trustees decided to use the donation, the largest in RIT’s history, toward the purchase of land in Henrietta.
On Nov. 22, 1961, the Trustees announced that RIT was going to move from the current downtown location to a new site in Henrietta. President Ellingson called the move “the most significant single act in the 132-year history of the Institute.”
The news electrified the students.
An editorial in the Reporter noted: “The action that the board has so courageously taken is unparalleled in its significance to RIT and the community it serves, and will be applauded by untold generations of students.”
The morning after the announcement, the Student Association presented a check for $10,000 to President Ellingson to start a building fund. Morning classes were canceled and students drove in a motorcade to the new campus site in Henrietta.
RIT is gearing up to celebrate 50 years on the Henrietta campus in 2018. Contact us to share your memories of the early years or the move at firstname.lastname@example.org.