Millikin's Buried Treasure: The Opening of the Cornerstone

The laying of the cornerstone for Millikin University's main building, now known as Shilling Hall, took place on June 12, 1902. A procession of officials made their way from the city's business district to the campus. Included in the procession were the police, fire department, city and county officers, and members of numerous Decatur lodges. The campus area itself was crowded with throngs of local citizens.

I. R. Mills, president of the Board of Managers, began the official ceremony. The Rev. Dr. William Penhallegon of First Presbyterian Church delivered the dedicatory address, stating in part:

”Decatur will have a new standard of measurement, shall see things in their right relations as the result of the establishment of this university in our midst.”

The Masonic fraternity of Illinois oversaw the ceremonies with Grand Commander George W. Moulton reading prior to depositing articles into the copper box:

"It has long been the custom on occasions like the present to deposit within a cavity in the stone certain memorials of the period at which it was erected; so that in the lapse of ages if fury of the elements, or the slow but certain ravages of time should lay bare its foundation, an enduring record may be found by succeeding generations, to bear testimony to the energy, industry, and culture of our time."

A list of the contents was read as they were placed in the box with the commander noting:

"You will now deposit the casket in the cavity beneath the cornerstone, and may the Great Architect of the universe in his wisdom grant that ages on ages shall pass away ere it again be seen by man."

Missing from the items was a photograph of James Millikin himself, as he declined to allow one to be included. As a matter of fact, Mr. Millikin did not appear on the platform with the other distinguished guests and speakers. His presence was noted on the edges of the crowds prior to the ceremony's beginning. A close friend attributed his absence from the platform to his "innate modesty".

Pres. Taylor's letter to Decatur citizensPres. Taylor's letter to Decatur citizens

Above: The letter to the Citizens of Decatur from President Albert Reynolds Taylor inviting them to participate in the fund raising efforts for the new university as well as the cornerstone ceremony.

Invitation to cornerstone ceremony

Above: The invitation to the ceremony sent to Masons from the Grand Lodge of Illinois is shown to the left.

By-Laws and Rules of CharterBy-Laws and Rules of Charter

Above: Copies of the By-Laws and Rules of Charter and a list of articles to be placed in the copper box for the cornerstone.


The certificate to the right was found in the Bible contained in the copper box. Gertrude Mills was the daughter of I. R. Mills, the first president of Millikin's Board of Trustees. Certificate of Merit for Gertrude Mills

List of foremen and supervisors

List with the names of those involved in the construction of the university were included in the copper box. The list above contains the names of various foremen and supervisors.

Card of C.S. Needham Back of Card of C.S. Needham

The card above belonged to C.S. Needham of the Wabash Railroad.

Mr. Needham donated the copper box in which the items were sealed.

Contents of the time capsule The copper box and the contents themselves are shown to the left. The amazingly good condition of the items preserved in the copper box is clearly evident.


Crowd watching cornerstone ceremony Rev. Penhallegon delivering an address

The photograph above left shows the crowds gathering for the cornerstone ceremony. Members of the Goodman Fourth Regiment honor guard can be seen in the foreground with plumes on their hats, while the band can be seen seated atop the second story of the Liberal Arts Hall, in front of the trees.

The photograph above right features Reverend Penhallegon of the First Presbyterian Church, the featured speaker at the cornerstone ceremony. His address praised the beauty of the campus, Mr. Millikin’s vision for the university, and his high hopes for the future students.

Dropping of the original cornerstone Dropping of the original cornerstone

The above photographs show the dropping of the cornerstone itself. The cornerstone descended in height three times before finally coming to rest on the foundation. Between each drop in height the Masons performed rituals that were common at such ceremonies.

Two member of Millikin's Physical Plant can be seen working to remove the original cornerstone in May of 2003. Removal of cornerstone in 2003

The Cornerstone returned to its original location in Fall of 2006

Cornerstone  Cornerstone


In the Fall of 2006, the original contents were placed back inside the copper box and it was resealed and returned to the inside of the cornerstone (seen above duct taped into the bottom of cornerstone). The original cornerstone was then restored to its original place in what is now known as Shilling Hall.

This page created October 16, 2003
Last modified: November 28, 2006
Copyright: Millikin University Board of Trustees