The 10th president of Union College
In 1894, Charles Alexander Richmond accepted a call to Albany's Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, where he remained until elected president of Union College 15 years later.
On the resignation of President Andrew V.V. Raymond in mid-1907, the Board of Trustees immediately elected trustee George Alexander ad-interim president, hoping he would take the job permanently. Alexander served as nominal head of the College for about 18 months.
In June 1908 the board finally appointed a presidential search committee, which, after some further prodding in the late fall, recommended Richmond. He had been brought to their attention by F.W. Cameron ’81. Unanimously elected as a special meeting on January 26, 1909, he took office April 1, 1909 (enthusiastic students carried him around on their shoulders when he arrived). Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton, delivered the principal address at Richmond’s inauguration during commencement week.
Richmond gave immediate attention to two matters with lasting consequences: improving the appearance of the campus and building an alumni association.
Believing that “the best advertisement we can have is to develop and beautify our campus,” he began by instituting regular lawn-mowing (previous administrations had contented themselves with cutting the grass twice a year) and generally cleaning up the campus. He used money contributed by a committee of Schenectady businessmen to begin construction of the present iron fence.
Payne Gate, erected in 1911, gave the College a more formal entrance. About the same time, Richmond personally planted elms along the colonnade and in front of the General Engineering Building. A nursery he established near Alexander Field would eventually produce over 3,000 trees and shrubs, dramatically altering the appearance of the campus.
Richmond replaced a feeble and ineffective alumni association with one modeled on Princeton's, hiring Charles Waldron '06 as the first graduate secretary.
Richmond's two decades at Union saw the construction of seven major additions to the campus. These include the Carnegie Building (campus center), the heretofore mentioned Payne Gate, the Alumni Gymnasium, Hanna Hall in Washington Hall, Butterfield Hall, Memorial Chapel and Bailey Hall. It is said that he used his influence to try to counteract the late 19th-century tendency to ignore the Ramee style in designing Union's new buildings.
Nothing distinguished Richmond from other Union presidents so much as his devotion to music. An enthusiastic poet, singer, songwriter and harpist, he gave concerts at Union during which he sang ballads from several traditions, often accompanying himself on the harp. In one concert he sang medieval songs while dressed in monks' robes; in another, he sang the hymn "Garibaldi" in Italian. In fact, Richmond was the first president to find a regular place in the curriculum for music.