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Alonzo W. Rollins (1832-1887):

Industrialist and College Benefactor


Born on March 20, 1832 at Lebanon Center, Maine, Alonzo W. Rollins became the second of eight children to Richard and Betsy Rollins, and of direct descent from James Rawlins, who migrated to America in 1632 and settled near Dover, New Hampshire on a farm still owned by members of the Rollins family. By the age of fifteen, Rollins had listened to countless prayers and heard continual discussions about the value of a Christian education.  Keeping these morals in mind, Rollins departed from his native home at the age of 22.  He eventually settled in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where he became engaged in the manufacture of brick and later, a paper composition called “straw board.”  In December 1865, after the failure of both ventures, Rollins married Susan A. Bowman of Royalton, Vermont.  Soon after their marriage, the couple relocated to Chicago, where Alonzo and his brother, H.M. Rollins, became very successful merchants selling dyes and supplies used in the manufacture of wool products.  Here Rollins developed a liking for fine wool, and soon after became a wool expert.  Overtime, Rollins became a respected businessman and an important leader in America’s rising textile industry.  During the initial years of his success, Rollins purchased a home at 32 Aldine Square, a section of the city where, “women dressed very elegantly and were as vain as peacocks.” [1]  From 1879-84, he served as trustee of the Sixth Presbyterian Church, which later merged with the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago.  In subsequent years, his health began to fail, forcing Rollins to seek annual relief in Florida.

In 1883, during one of his annual pilgrimages, his wife’s good cooking sparked the kinship between Judge Lawrence and the Rollins family.  Lawrence introduced the couple to the quaint city of Winter Park and to the property in which Alonzo and his wife would eventually purchase for $10,000.  Upon arrival to this new city, Rollins continued to maintain close ties between his brothers, but nevertheless lamented that he had no sons or daughters to educate.  Although he lacked a college education, Rollins maintained committed to high ideals and supported the value of a higher education.  Out of his dedication to such principles, he believed the money did not belong to him.  As a man of strong religious faith, he began to grow uneasy with his wealth and soon became determined to offer it to a notable cause.  Because of this, he familiarized himself with the efforts of Lucy Cross and Fredrick Lyman. 

On January 29, 1885, the General Congregational Church Association of Florida proposed the idea to found a Christian institution of higher education in the locations of Daytona Beach, Mt. Dora, Orange City, or Winter Park.  Rollins seized the chance to make a leadership donation of $50,000 to the cause, swaying the choice of the campus site to Winter Park.  With the organization of the College, April 28, 1885, Rollins College made him trustee and treasurer.  He attended two annual meetings of the Board of Trustees before the decline of his health became evident.  Alonzo Rollins passed away on September 2, 1887 at the premature age of fifty-six from a reoccurring ailment, gastro enteritis, and was later buried in the mausoleum at Mount Hope Cemetery, Chicago.  He left his fortune to his widow, which at her death, bequeathed to the College a total of $222,475. 

Even after his death, the legacy that Mr. Rollins created for himself continues to live on.  According to the Winter Park Company, they, “recognize and honor him as one of the friends and leading benefactors of Winter Park and Florida….His name is deservedly associated with all that Winter Park shall become and with the best interests of this Southern portion of our country.”[2]

 - Alia Alli

[1] Alonzo W. Rollins (1832-1887), p. 2, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Box 10B, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[2] The Winter Park Company, Alonzo W. Rollins (1832-1887), p. 3, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Box 10B, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.


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