Before UO and before OSU, there was Columbia College. Opened November 3rd, 1856 by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Columbia was the first college in Lane County, only the fourth in the Oregon territory. Enoch Pratt Henderson, a minister, was hired to serve as president of the college. The first student body consisted of 52 students.
Only four days after classes started, the building was destroyed by fire under suspicion of arson. Classes continued in a nearby home. A less grand, but serviceable building was rebuilt by November of 1857. By then, the student body had grown to 150 students. On February 26, 1858, a second fire consumed the college again. Attempts were made to rebuild for a third time, but the Cumberland Presbyterian Church withdrew all financial support from the project. This being the eve of the Civil War, the church leadership was itself keenly divided by the issue of slavery, and Columbia College was yet another casualty of that acrimony. The school closed for good in 1860. The last remnants were torn down by 1867, with some of the old sandstone building blocks being used to build a store on Willamette Street (Eugene recycled even back then).
Few present day reminders of Columbia College exist. The surrounding neighborhood is called College Hill, and there is a city-placed monument at 19th and Olive. The plaque reads: "Site of Columbia College 1856-1860". Carved into the stone base are the words "COLUMBIA COLLEGE FIRST SCHOOL OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN LANE COUNTY BUILT IN 1854".
Only in operation for four years (not counting time closed for fires and rebuilding) it is not clear if any degrees were ever granted from Columbia College. However, several notable people did attend classes.
Harrison Rittenhouse Kincaid (January 3, 1836 – October 2, 1920) was an American printer, journalist, Republican politician, and university regent who served as Oregon Secretary of State between 1895 and 1899. In Eugene, Kincaid Street is named after him.
Cincinnatus Heine Miller (September 8, 1837 – February 17, 1913), better known by his pen name Joaquin Miller, was an American poet and frontiersman. He is nicknamed the "Poet of the Sierras" after the Sierra Nevada, about which he wrote in his Songs of the Sierras (1871).
Col. William Thompson (1846–1934) was an American-Indian fighter and journalist, the editor of multiple newspapers in Oregon and California.
James Finley Watson (March 15, 1840 – June 12, 1897) was the 25th Associate Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, serving from 1876 until 1878. Previously he served in the state legislature and later served as United States Attorney for the District of Oregon.