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Guest column: The Curse of Logan Hall (By Tad LaFountain ’72)

The better part of a century was spent in Boston bemoaning the Curse of the Bambino — the lingering ill effects of the trade of George Herman Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees. Balls headed right into Red Sox first basemen’s gloves miraculously evading trapping, and weak-hitting Yankee infielders were turned into one-time sluggers … all due to the Babe departing Beantown for pin-striped pastures.

Consider this: in 2008, University of Pennsylvania trustees accept a $20 million “gift” from alumnus Ronald Perelman conditioned upon the renaming of a central Penn building (note to trustees: real gifts don’t have strings attached). As a result, Logan Hall, named after James Logan, became known as Cohen Hall in memory of Perelman’s late ex-wife.

Now consider this: ever since, the Penn-Princeton hegemony in Ivy League men’s basketball has waned in power. Gone are the days when the other Ancient Eight dreaded heading to the Lost Weekends of the Lower Latitudes. Recently, some of these pretenders have even had the temerity to escape with dual victories. How can this be? Blame Perelman.

You see, James Logan wasn’t just some old and nearly long forgotten guy: he’s the reason Penn and Princeton exist. And it’s about time that credit is given to where credit is long, long overdue. It’s also a really great story.

William Penn, The Proprietor, helped the Quakers (the originals, not the Red and Blue) when their nascent settlement of West Jersey was struggling. He — or possibly John Locke — wrote “Concession and Agreement” of the Proprietors West Jersey as well as provided stability during a period when legal entanglements snarled the affairs of the founder John Fenwick. A couple of years later, Penn accepted the deed to the lands west of the Delaware as payment from Charles II for a debt due to Penn’s late father, Admiral William Penn. The next year, Penn joined 11 other proprietors (who immediately took on 12 more partners) to become owners of East Jersey. So before turning 40, William Penn was the major force in these parts.

But he only spent two spans of two years actually living along the Delaware River. Other than those four years, Penn resided in England and left the management of his proprietorship of Pennsylvania in the trusted hands of his secretary, James Logan. Logan, a native of Northern Ireland, converted to Quakerism and drew the attention of the well-traveled Penn. Tending to Penn’s “Holy Experiment” was both a significant honor and tremendous responsibility for Logan, who had to deal with both the tensions between the urban merchants of Philadelphia and the yeoman farmers of the countryside, and the stresses caused by significant immigration due to the religious freedom and toleration practiced in the Delaware Valley.

One of the immigrants was Logan’s cousin, who was married to a Presbyterian minister named William Tennent. Tennent took the pulpit at the Neshaminy/Warminster church in Bucks County and proceeded to become a spiritual force. With waves of Presbyterian Scots-Irish immigrants overwhelming the supply of Scottish-educated ministers, Tennent initiated a program of instruction along the banks of the Neshaminy Creek in a log cabin — which traditionally inclined members of the Presbyterian community derisively referred to as “The Log College.” If you travel to the Warminster site today, you will see a roadside granite marker listing the 61 colleges and universities that trace their roots to those who passed through Tennent’s tutelage — a most impressive array of accomplishment for a single minister serving in what was still a wilderness in the early 18th century.

One of those who studied at Neshaminy was Tennent’s own son Gilbert, who proceeded to take the pulpit of the Presbyterian Church in New Brunswick. It was there that he became close friends with Theodorus Frelinghuysen, the German sent to oversee the Dutch Reformed churches in the Raritan Valley. When the Presbyterians were deciding where to establish a true institution for educating the ministry, Gilbert Tennent was the leading force in establishing the College of New Jersey — for a year at Elizabeth, then nearly a decade in Newark before moving to a campus at the western edge of what had been prior to 1702 the Province of West Jersey. The land involved had originally been owned by one of the 24 proprietors, Thomas Warne of Dublin (a Quaker friend of James Logan), and was owned at the time by Nathaniel FitzRandolph, a member of Stony Brook Meeting. He donated an attractive parcel to the College at the heart of the village known as Princeton, and Nassau Hall was built to house the College.

Frelinghuysen’s Dutch Reformed congregations emulated their fellow Calvinists by creating their own institution a decade after the Presbyterians moved to Princeton – Queen’s College. Roughly a century later, Queen’s College, now renamed Rutgers, competed with what was colloquially referred to as Princeton (which formally adopted the name in 1896) in a game of football.

So James Logan, who was an intellectually curious man with the largest personal library in the colonies at the time of his death, not only provided excellent stewardship for Penn’s proprietorship and nurtured Philadelphia into becoming the largest and most important colonial city, but also set in motion developments that created two of the world’s great universities (and, coincidentally, led to the creation of intercollegiate athletics). A case can be made that along with Roger Williams and Penn himself, Logan was responsible for the establishment of an environment that promoted the American ideals of toleration and freedoms which were later codified by Jefferson and others.

No disrespect to Claudia Cohen, the former editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. But Cohen Hall instead of Logan Hall? Seriously? How long must these two hoop squads suffer because of a misguided effort to commemorate a matrimonial entanglement? It’s very simple: Logan Hall resulted in trips to the Final Four for both Princeton and Penn (and Rutgers, too, while we’re at it). What are the odds that we see that again as long as there’s a Cohen Hall?

The Religious Society of Friends often employs a term to denote things being as they should: “rightly ordered.” No doubt that when the name of one of America’s most significant early inhabitants is restored to the building that is the second oldest on the Penn campus, things will be rightly ordered. And no doubt that at such a time, the rightly ordered nature of Ivy hoops will be reestablished, with Logan’s two universities tussling for supremacy.

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