William W. Borden: Entrepreneur
Written by Peggy Roberson
The Borden family of New Providence, Rhode Island can be counted among the First Families of Clark County Indiana. John Borden, the father of William, arrived in Clark County in 1816 to purchase land. He returned in 1817 and founded the town of New Providence in the western part of Clark County, naming it after the capitol of his home state. After about two years his wife, Comfort, arrived to live here while his son, Thomas, stayed in their home state. After about 18 months Mrs. Borden died. In 1822, John remarried to Lydia Bellows.
Mr. Borden and his family engaged in farming, blacksmithing, and inn keeping. William Borden was born a year later and was followed by his brother John in 1825 just six months after his father had passed away. Mrs. Borden took over the inn and would run it until her death. She would never marry again. She valued an education for her children so both William and John attended the local school and were later sent to Washington County Seminary in Salem.
At age 16, William entered Indiana University as a sophomore. Later he entered and graduated from Harvard Law School. Besides his interest in law, he had a keen interest in Geology. He collected rocks and minerals from many places.
Although he had his law degree he worked as a farmer, innkeeper, and caretaker of his mother’s business for the next fifteen years. The Borden land holdings were immense; they owned 1133 acres of farm land and 33 lots in New Providence. After Lydia Borden died in 1851 William managed the business interests until 1862.
William met a Dr. Reid of Salem, who sparked his interest in fossils and geology. In 1873, he was appointed Assistant Indiana State Geologist. His duties were to prepare geological reports for Clark, Floyd, Jefferson, Scott, Jennings and Ripley counties. After a divorce from his first wife, Lizzie Shaw Borden, he decided to take off to the mining camps in Leadville, Colorado, to make his fortune. His nephew was already there and the two teamed up to make a very large fortune in just a few months.
He returned to New Providence and married for a second time to Idumea Harrod of Canton in Washington County. She died two years later in a buggy accident when her horse was scared by a lightning strike. Three years later, he married for a third time, to Emma Dunbar, who was 18. Borden was 64 years old.
In 1884, William Borden founded the Borden Institute which was a private high school. Next, he established a Normal School to train elementary teachers. He built a large building with his earnings from the silver mines and became known as Professor Borden even though he had no degree and did not teach at the school.
The Institute charged $2.50 per week room and board and tuition was $8.00 per ten week course. The curriculum was a two year teacher course or a 3 year scientific course, a one year business course and a law course. A dormitory was built next to the school.
Professor Borden continued to accumulate fossil and mineral samples from around the community and built at two story building to house them. This is the current Borden Museum building. While this was being accomplished, Professor Borden arranged to have the small town renamed for his father and it became Borden, changed by the US Post Office in 1891.
In 1893 he employed an outstanding teacher, H. A. Buerk, who along with his teaching duties cataloged Borden’s extensive collections of rocks, fossils, minerals and rare books. In 1901 the professor obtained and installed an electric generator for street and house lights. In 1906 William Borden died at the age of 83. Shortly afterward H. A. Buerk resigned and the school was closed.
Borden was buried for a time in the yard of his Borden residence and then removed to Fairview Cemetery. Mrs. Borden married George W. Robb. Later Borden was disinterred and buried at Fairview Cemetery in New Albany. His collections were dispersed throughout the Midwest; some fossils and minerals went to the Indiana State Museum and the Eli Lilly Collection.
The property in Borden was eventually deeded over to the local school corporation. The Borden home in New Albany, on 905 East Elm Street, was sold and then razed in 1961.
Sources for this article include: Vertical File-Borden Family, and “A History of the Borden Institute” by W. E. Wilson