McMicken, Charles, born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1782, Charles McMicken was raised on the family farm in the pattern of most pioneer youth,
learning the lessons of hard work, economy, and skills such as surveying. The incident that led to his journey to Cincinnati began when he was plowing a
field and turned up a bumblebee nest. He was stung; the horses ran away and were injured by the plow. Both his father and his older brother blamed him for
the accident, which Charles believed was unavoidable. Feeling unjustly blamed, he decided to leave home and was offered his choice of a horse, saddle
and bridle, or $100 in cash. He chose the horse and set out to seek his fortune at age 21.
In the spring of 1803, he arrived in Cincinnati, sold the horse, and began work as a clerk in the general merchandise business of John Smith, United States
senator from Ohio. Soon, McMicken was ready to trade on his own behalf and left for New Orleans with two flatboats of flour. Unfortunately, his boats sunk
just north of the city and he lost his investment. He then sought work as a clerk in a store inNew Orleans. Following the old lessons of hard work and economy, McMicken began to prosper. By 1837, he turned his attention away from business and began to invest in real estate.
In Cincinnati, his first purchase was the northeast corner of Third and Main Streets in 1835. He continued to buy land in Cincinnati, eventually owning land valued at $500,000. In 1840, he purchased the property to be known as the McMicken homestead on McMicken Avenue, where he lived during the later years of his life. During these years he also bought land in Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, and elsewhere.
A quiet, reserved man who kept his affairs to himself, McMicken confided in no one the extent of his business holdings. He remained single and lived in Cincinnati part of the year, sharing his home with his nephew Andrew, and his family. Winters he spent in New Orleans and the summers at eastern resorts. He had numerous philanthropic interests that he quietly supported. In March 1858, about 10 days after he returned to Cincinnati from New Orleans, he became ill with a violent chill which developed into pneumonia and led to his death at 75. He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery; the funeral notice in the newspaper indicated his estate was valued at more than $1 million back in 1858.
McMicken's will, carefully prepared in 39 sections, disclosed the central focus of his life: his strong desire to ensure that young people have the opportunity to benefit from a quality college education. He left the bulk of his estate to the city of Cincinnati, in trust forever, to establish an educational institution.
Historians speculate that the desire to found a college was McMicken's lifelong dream and one close friend recalled where McMicken indicated that he had worked since early manhood for its accomplishment. McMicken may have been inspired by the activity to create a college in the pioneer city of Cincinnati about the time he first arrived on horseback in 1803. These early attempts failed, McMicken moved to New Orleans, but the dream may have been formed at this time.
Two weeks after McMicken's will was probated, the City began the necessary steps to accept the bequest. A variety of circumstances delayed further activities: the will was contested, some of the property was dilapidated and needed repair to ensure regular income, and the outbreak of the Civil War brought on inflation and increased the cost of living. The event which had the greatest impact on the founding of the university was the contesting of the will in both New Orleans and Cincinnati by nieces and nephews of McMicken, who had received bequests in small sums.
The Supreme Court of Louisiana ruled against the City of Cincinnati, stating that both the real estate and personal property of McMicken held in New Orleans could not pass to a foreign corporation. The loss of anticipated revenue from the Louisiana property reduced the size of the trust and, therefore, the annual revenue available to support the university.
The United States Supreme Court, in 1861, ruled in favor of the City of Cincinnati in the second challenge to the terms of the will, which ensured that a college would be established. In December of 1859, the Common Council had passed a city ordinance which provided for the establishment of a university for the free education, in separate colleges, of the young men and women of Cincinnati. The McMicken University was the chosen name of the school, to be located on the site of the McMicken homestead. Now that the legal battles were over, the planning for the university continued.
Click HERE to view The Last Will & Testament of Charles McMicken