John Evans connects Northwestern, University of Denver with history

Lark Turner

In 1851, John Evans helped found a Methodist university just north of Chicago. In 1862, he headed west to do it again.

Both Northwestern and the University of Denver, founded in 1864, can trace their origins to Illinois-bred and Colorado-bound Evans, from whom Evanston gets its name.

Evans got on the right side of Abraham Lincoln early in his career, said Prof. Steven Fisher, curator of special collections in DU’s Penrose Library.

“The way I always put it is that John Evans was a person who was in the right place at the right time,” Fisher said.

Evans fell in line with Methodists and converted to the religion early in his political career, said Kevin Leonard, NU’s archivist. Leonard said Evans was probably the most prominent member of the group who founded NU.

“Without John Evans, of course, there would be no Northwestern,” he said. “He helped to float this place when it was just a nickel-and-dime affair.”

After Evans founded NU, Lincoln offered Evans governorship of the Colorado Territory, Fisher said.

“One of his first goals when he got here was to found an institution of higher learning so that the citizens of the territory would not have to go back east for their college education,” Fisher said.

Today the schools have less in common than their humble beginnings suggest. At DU, the weekend is more likely to be spent in the mountains than anywhere near campus, DU junior Mindy Stone said.

Still, commonalities exist: Both schools have a Division-I athletic program, operate on the quarter system and are located in suburbs, Fisher said.

Furthermore, the two schools share similar social atmospheres. DU students like to head out on Thursdays, too, and hit venues that sound suspiciously similar to The Keg of Evanston. Stone said the three bars most students frequent-The Border Restaurant, Stadium Inn and Stick-E-Star-are popular for dancing, pool and beer pong, respectively.The schools both have a flagship athletic team. For NU, of course, it’s football. In Denver, the biggest sport is played on the ice.

“We are a hockey school,” Fisher said. “We dropped football in 1961 because hockey was really becoming more prominent. We also had a chancellor then who thought that football made us less scholarly.”

References to Evans can be found on both campuses: at NU’s John Evans Alumni Center and DU’s Evans Avenue. Mount Evans, a towering mountain on the Rocky Mountain’s Front Range, is visible from DU’s campus.

Just as Lake Michigan acts as a navigation point for NU students, these mountains serve a landmark for the DU community.

“If they’re going west, I’d just say, ‘Head towards the mountains,'” Stone said.

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