In 1840, William T. Bidwell, a school teacher at the Tamarack Log School House, convinced the community to build another institution for education - Prairieville Academy. Waukesha's founding father, Morris Cutler, donated the land, and Lyman Goodnow donated all stone needed from his quarry. By 1841 the Academy was built. Located on the corner of Maple and Wisconsin Avenues, it became the first institution of education in the State of Wisconsin to be built completely out of stone.
Unfortunately, the financial burden of building the school was not being met by the school's enrollment, and it was forced to temporarily close its doors in 1844. Two years later, the institution changed names and was incorporated as Carroll College. The old building was vacated in 1848, and became a church.
Classes were held in basements and above stores for several years, and finally, in 1853 the building called "Main" opened.
The college successfully maintained its student population and even grew a little until a fire in 1885 completely burned Main to the ground. By this time, the college had come under the strict and expansive leadership of President Walter Lowrie Rankin.
"The institution was suspended and in debt, its buildings out of repair, its patronage scattered, its treasury empty. I am willing to endure almost any amount of trouble if it may conduce to future good." - Walter L. Rankin, President Carroll Academy
A new "Main" building was opened in 1887 and has stood as Carroll's central building ever since. Today it is affectionately termed, "Old Main". One brochure described Carroll's campus and new building.
"It is a handsome structure of Waukesha limestone on a site of unrivaled beauty. The college campus is a sloping lawn of ten acres, overlooking the valley in which Waukesha is nestled. It contains an extensive grove of shade trees, interspersed with well preserved Indian mounds, and the remains of an Indian cornfield."
President Rankin's aggressive search for students brought new strength to the wavering institution, and served to bring Carroll onto strong footing for the first time in its history. Enrollment climbed; new courses in arts and sciences flourished, and several buildings were added to the campus.
As the turn of the century came and went, Carroll became more of a College, and began to focus more strongly on post-high school level teachings. The school was easily pulled along with the optimism and energy of the Guilded Age, however, World War I created a new spirit for the school and the nation. Students participated in the Women's Suffrage movement, formed a whole variety of new sororities and fraternities, and participated in the rebellious nature of the roaring Twenties.
The arrival of Norris Armstrong, nicknamed "Army" by loving students, ushered in one Carroll's greatest periods of sports dominance. In game after game, Carroll College's various teams won titles and grew in fame.
The National Depression following the stock market crash hit Carroll College hardest in 1932, 33, and 34.
Through these years, the college drastically trimmed its operating costs without dismissing any employees. Carroll kept its doors open through it all, even saw increased enrollment. By 1934, hopes for future prosperity soared. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal helped boost Carroll College, as various acts and administrations provided money for student employment as well as financial aid. Over 800 students graduated from Carroll in the 30s, most of whom earned a Bachelor's degree in Arts, Science, Philosophy, or Music.
As world War II brought a new atmosphere to academia, Carroll both reemphasized its religious, Christian role, while constantly reforming curriculum to include a world's changing methods and technology. World War II forced the campus to finally relinquish it's policy of hiring no married women, and many programs which had been temporarily put out of commission during the depression saw a rebirth during and after World War II. Carroll also served as an officer training center for the Army Air corp - 76th Division, and provided education to several young Japanese-Americans whose families were living in California detention camps. As World War II came to an end, Carroll College rejoiced, not only at the arrival of peace and the return of many veterans to their education, but also for its centennial celebration.
The 50s saw Carroll grow as never before. Enrollment nearly doubled, while a score of new dormitories and classrooms were added. The dream of building a new chapel was finally achieved, as well as the construction of a student union. Much of the religious nature of the Christian College changed in the 50s, as religion courses replaced strict chapel attendance.
In the sixties, Carroll continued to expand with three new halls, two dormitories and an addition to the library.
Further improvements in the 70s included the Howard T. Greene Scientific Study and Conservancy Area, the Art Studios, and renovations of Old Main and Rankin Hall. In 1979, Otteson Theater opened to the public.
The 80s saw further renovations of the campus, including Ganfield Gymnasium.