In the 1830s George Washington Gale, a Presbyterian minister from upstate New York, inspired a band of colonists to set out for the praries of Illinois to establish an educational institution that would be known as Knox Manual Labor College. The college, which was chartered by the Illinois legislature on February 15, 1837, has always been a private, independent college. Knox was among the first institutions open to people of color and women. The first commencement was June 1846, and in 1857 the name was altered to Knox College.
The plan to bring the college to the prarie was deliberate and well-thought out. In New York, George Washington Gale sought settlers of a like mind and moral purpose. He began publicizing his project in 1834 with a "Circular and Plan" which set out the intention to procure land with the money from subscribers, purchase a large tract of land in the West, and then sell land back to the subscribers. In return, the subscribers would receive free tuition at the college institutions for one student for twenty-five years.
"So for quite some time following the Civil War, three separate libraries were operating in Old Main, none of them very large and none of them--by modern standards--promoting use of their book collections very effectively. But it was during this period that the landmark document through which we best know Knox's 19th century libraries appears --John Huston Finley's Catalogue of Books in the College, Adelphi, and Gnothautii Libraries of Knox College."
"The history of the Knox College Library is as old as the College itself. Hiram Huntington Kellogg, Knox College's first president, acquired the first collection of books for Knox during a trip to Europe in 1843-1844. Together with volumes donated by Galesburg families, these occupied a room in the College's earliest building..."