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Spring on the York College campus

The Whiteley Columns: Portals of the Past

By Karen Rice-Young '92
A marble column with an antique statue.
One of the four marble pillars embellished with antique statuary.

Nestled in the shade of the trees that border the quad in front of Schmidt Library, there are four marble columns, each representing a season of the year. These understated pillars have witnessed over 100 years of students passing by: their original home was in Memorial Hall of the York Collegiate Institute (YCI).

Built in 1887, the school, the second in YCP’s lineage, was located on College Avenue and Duke Street. For 75 years, students of YCI and, in 1941, York Junior College (YJC), mingled in this great hall, perhaps leaning on the marble columns on their way up the stairs to class.

So, how did these four pillars get to York College? We can thank a 1907 graduate of the York Collegiate Institute: E. Purdon Whiteley.

E. Purdon Smith was born in 1890 and attended YCI from 1905 through 1907. She married George Whiteley in 1911. Purdon had a keen interest in York history, so when she learned that the venerable old YCI building was going to be razed in 1962, she acquired four of its marble pillars, embellished them with antique statuary and installed them on the grounds of her York estate, “Box Hill.”

When Purdon passed in 1979, her family established a scholarship and donated the pillars to York College, the school which had evolved from YCI and YJC.

Without ceremony in the summer of 1979, the four marble columns and their statuary were placed on either side of the quad that leads to the library. They’ve stood in tribute to York College’s lineage and its students for 132 years. Purdon Whiteley’s marble pillars on YCP’s campus are, indeed, portals of the past.

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