The long and storied history of Thomas College

Over 125 Years of Student Focused Innovation

Thomas College’s history spans over 125 years of student-focused innovation. From a small school located in the Edith Building above F.W. Woolworth Co. in 1894 to a 120-acre campus, this is our story.

Key History Events

1894: Kiest Business College is founded three floors above F.W. Woolworth Co. in the Edith Building as a non-sectarian, co-educational college dedicated to career training.

1896: Kiest Business College, with a growing reputation for coeducational career training, is purchased by William Morgan and renamed Morgan Business College.

1911: Morgan Business College is purchased by Peterborough, New Hampshire-based railroad administrator John L. Thomas Sr., who was himself a graduate of the business college. The College is renamed Morgan-Thomas Business College. For more than 45 years, the college earns an excellent reputation for educating accountants and secretaries, and sees increased student enrollment. Thomas, serving as the College’s “principal,” develops a reputation as a gifted teacher.

1950: Morgan-Thomas Business College is renamed Thomas Junior College.

1956: The College moves to the former home of John Ware on Silver Street, which is known as one of Waterville’s largest and finest estates. The College uses two buildings there, one for administrative offices, library and classrooms, and the other for a women’s dormitory, dining room, store and student lounge. John L. Thomas Jr. is named President.

1958: The Maine State Legislature grants Thomas College the right to confer Associate in Arts and Associate in Secretarial Science degrees.

1959: Thomas College is re-chartered as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit institution.

1960 (approx.): Jewell Hall, a men’s dormitory named for Ralph A. Jewell, the first chairman of the Board of Trustees, is dedicated.

1962: A new classroom building is opened and becomes the hub of all academic activity. Thomas Junior College is renamed Thomas College.

1963: The Maine State Legislature grants Thomas College the right to confer four-year Bachelor of Science in Business Education and Bachelor of Science in Administration degrees.

1964: Mariner Library opens. It is named for Ernest C. Mariner, who served as Chairman of the Thomas college Board of Trustees for 15 years.

1965: A theater for lectures, concerts and dramatic presentations is added to the main classroom building. In September, a new building with a dining center and women’s dormitory is completed and named for Ann S. Parks, the College’s first female trustee.

1969: The Maine State Legislature grants Thomas College the right to confer Associate in Science degrees.

1969: Telephone workers go on strike, and those workers with students at Thomas help build a baseball field on the new campus. The workers on the ball field are paid $3.25 per hour, and President John L. Thomas thinks the bill for the field is excessive at $4,200. (Today that same baseball field would cost at least ten times more.)

1970: A dormitory with accommodations for both men and women in separate wings was opened at the new campus on West River Road. A student union and dining center was opened that December.

1971: The entire College is now operating at the West River Road campus.

1972: A student village with townhouse-style accommodations for seniors and juniors is opened at the new Thomas College campus on West River Road.

1974-1976: The Maine State Legislature grants Thomas College the authority to award Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies and Master of Science in Business degrees.

1976: Thomas College purchases its first computer, a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-11.

1980: President John Thomas Jr. dies. Ford A. Grant, a former teacher and the College’s Vice President for Financial Affairs, is named interim President. Later Paul G. Jenson, former Dean of Faculty, is named full-time President at Thomas College.

1982-1983: The Computer Information Systems major begins, and Thomas College purchases its first personal computers—2 Macintoshes and a Compaq Portable PC.

1983: The College institutes its Internship Program, helping to establish Thomas as a college that graduates students who are prepared for career success.

1984: The Maine State Legislature grants Thomas College the authority to award Master of Business Administration degrees.

1985: Thomas College’s Portland Center is established.

1986: Cyril M. Joly, Jr. is named to replace the retiring Paul G. Jenson as President.

1988: Thomas College purchases its first computer network dedicated to administrative use, and creates its first Local Area Network.

1989: David F. Emery is named to replace Cyril M. Joly, Jr. as interim President, pending selection of Joly’s permanent successor. Emery serves for six months, and George R. Spann is named Thomas College President.

1994: All dormitory rooms are equipped with voice, data, and video lines. The addition of this technology is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The first building-to-building network connection is completed, and Thomas College signs on to the Internet.

1995: Thomas College announces a partnership with Maine InternetWorks (MINT) that makes Thomas and MINT the local internet providers for the Central Maine region.

1998: A new phone system is purchased to handle the additional load of student dormitory rooms and to make Thomas Y2K compliant. Computer Management and Software Development majors are launched.

1999: Thomas College announces the Thomas College Guaranteed Job Program, the most extensive program of its kind in the nation. Thomas College becomes one of the first colleges in the country to establish a web-based computer administrative system.

2000: Thomas celebrates the opening of the 300-seat Laurette Ayotte Auditorium. With its large projection screen, state-of-the-art sound system, and technology learning lab classrooms, the Laurette Ayotte Auditorium is one of the most multi-purposed in the Northeast. The Thomas community uses this spacious facility for concerts, student events, meetings, special events, and even a weekly Friday night movie. Thomas College also adds new majors in Elementary Education, Psychology, Criminal Justice, and Computer Science. The College announces partnerships with the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and Putnam Investments, which opens a center on campus.

2001: Thomas College announces a partnership with Bridge Educational Computer Career5 Center of Westbrook, Maine. The Thomas College baseball team wins the NAIA New England Championship, and the team develops a partnership with minor league baseball team the Portland Sea Dogs, the farm team for the Boston Red Sox.

2002: A new major in Communications is announced. The campus offers wireless Internet in nearly every location to students. A partnership with the Mid Maine Chamber of Commerce was announced.

2003: The College completes major renovations to the Dining Center and opens Bartlett Hall, a new 100-bed student residence equipped with wireless internet, cable television, lounges, kitchenettes, and computer areas.

2004: Thomas is selected for a second time in five years by the Microsoft Corporation as a case study for best uses of the company’s products. Microsoft focuses its examination on the College’s use of its ISA Server 2004 product for security, performance and reporting.

2005: Thomas receives a $1.25 million challenge grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation for construction of a $4.6 million athletic center. The gift is the largest ever received by the College for construction of a facility. Thomas announces the launch of an unprecedented $9.6 million capital campaign. The campaign, the largest in the College’s history, is a push to fund the new Harold Alfond Athletic Center, scholarship endowment and annual operating funds. The College receives several generous challenges for the campaign, including the H. Allen Ryan Challenge for $500,000 and a Unity Foundation challenge for $150,000. In addition, 100 percent of Thomas’s Board of Trustees donate and many regional businesses contribute, including TD Banknorth, N.A., which makes a $250,000 pledge.

2006: The 38,000 square foot Harold Alfond Athletic Center opens for the first time. The College also completes a popular Recreation Room. A new Master of Science in Education program is launched. Overall enrollment is up 39 percent since 2002. The record enrollment puts the College on track for its ambitious goal of nearly doubling its undergraduate enrollment over 10 years.

2007: The College purchases an additional 50 acres of land from Eaglewood Estates and near the Kennebec River to support its continued growth in enrollment.

2008: Thomas College opens its Townhouse units, which accommodate 88 students in two-floor, suite style living areas.

2012: Laurie Lachance, Thomas M.B.A. ’92, is named Thomas College President. She is the first female and first alumna president of the College.

2013: Thomas College begins construction on the George and Marty Spann Student Commons, a state-of-the-art academic center and library. The College also builds new turf fields to accommodate the Terriers athletics teams and members of the community. Thomas College celebrates by hosting over 3,000 elementary, middle, and high school students who will also be able to enjoy the spaces. Thomas also adds eight new academic programs. The College distributes over $7 million in institutional financial aid, which includes $105,000 from the Bernard Osher Foundation.

2014: The Harold Alfond Academic Center opens—the second academic facility on campus. It includes the H. Allen Ryan School of Business, the Kenneth and Eva Green Library, Jeanie’s Café, the Bert and Coral Clifford Financial Center, as well as classrooms, a student success center, study rooms, and faculty offices. The College also opens another residence hall, Henry and Ellen Hinman Hall. The main entrance is relocated to accommodate construction and later named Sheridan Drive.

2016: The College updates the Campus Master Plan. 

2017: With a $3.4 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, the College establishes the Harold Alfond® Institute for Business Innovation.

2017: Thomas College launches a School of Education. 

2017: Thomas graduates its first Kiest-Morgan participants. The program is the College’s formal three-year undergraduate degree program.

2018: The College begins to celebrate its 125th year, which will culminate with Commencement in Spring 2019.

2018: Thomas College is awarded a $2.3 million grant from the United States Department of Education’s Title III Strengthening Institutions Program—making it the only private college in Maine to receive both federal TRIO and Title III funding.

2018: The varsity level Esports program launches.

2018: A new trail system on campus, the Sukeforth Family Trail System, opens on campus.  

2019: The School of Education is named the Peter & Paula Lunder School of Education.

2020: The College announces it will offer online graduate degree programs for the first time.

2020: President Lachance launches the Presidential Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Social Justice.

2020: The College is awarded $1.3 Million TRIO Student Support Services grant.

2021: Thomas College announces completion of the “Guaranteeing the Future Campaign” at $30 million, exceeding the goal of $27 million.

2021: The College breaks ground on a new Sports Facility to open in the Fall of 2022.