Earlier this year, I received a phone message from Lois Black, curator of Special Collections. She was very excited to tell me that Lehigh had just been gifted the personal papers of Miles Rock, one of five members of Lehigh’s very first graduating class, the Class of 1869, and the first president of Lehigh’s alumni association.
“There’s an incredible story here,” she told me. “And I hope to share more with you.”
Indeed, there was.
Rock sought a Lehigh education around the time of its founding, after serving in the Civil War as part of the 1st Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps and the U.S. Signal Corps. The first to earn a civil engineering degree here, Rock went on to live a very significant life as a civil engineer, naturalist and astronomer. Among his service to governments, he used his technical knowledge and diplomatic skills to help determine the disputed frontier between Mexico and Guatemala.
He didn’t forget his alma mater, also becoming an honorary alumni trustee, and, for a year, had taught civil engineering before moving to Argentina. He even named his son after a favorite Lehigh professor. You can read Christina Tatu’s story on Rock’s incredible life journey.
So why is Rock’s story relevant to Lehigh today? Firstly, his journals, maps, Civil War uniform and other belongings will now be preserved as part of the Lehigh University Libraries Special Collections and available for research, thanks to the gift from his great-great-grandsons David Grace and Chris Grace.
“This is such an amazing collection with so much research potential,” Black told us.
The materials also provide a window into our nation’s history, as he reflects on 19th century America, and in one journal account, writes about the pain of learning of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
Secondly, Rock’s story fortifies the Lehigh story and the value of a Lehigh education. From its inception, Lehigh has strived to prepare its graduates to take on tomorrow’s challenges, to problem-solve, to have an impact on the world and to live lives of consequence. Rock, as so many of our alumni do, used his Lehigh education to make a difference.
We hope you enjoy this issue of the Lehigh Bulletin. You can see renderings of the planned renovations to the Clayton University Center, a project that was launched by a donation from Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P and Lisa A. Clayton ’13P. The renovations will preserve the building’s grandeur while creating a dynamic environment for student life. Other articles highlight faculty research, culture, athletics and more.
Mary Ellen Alu