History of Houghton

Located in Houghton (Allegany County), this private, Christian, liberal arts college began in 1883 as a seminary (high school) under the Wesleyan Methodist Connection. Coeducational from its founding, Houghton operated as a secondary school for its first 15 years.

Black and White Photo of Fancher Hall at Houghton UniversityIn 1899 a few college classes were offered; the college department's first diploma was awarded in 1901. While early principals were Wesleyan Methodist pastors willing to accept the job, in 1908 Houghton acquired its first academically-trained president, James S. Luckey, who served until his death in 1937.

Houghton College received its provisional charter from New York State in 1923 and awarded its first 19 baccalaureate degrees two years later. A permanent charter was granted in 1927, and accreditation by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges came in 1935.

Stephen W. Paine succeeded Luckey and served as president until 1972. Under Paine’s leadership the college expanded from about 300 students to 1,200, necessitating the addition of new buildings, and the percentage of faculty holding earned doctorates tripled.

Daniel R. Chamberlain, president from 1976, oversaw the erecting of several other major campus buildings and an extensive adult degree-completion program. Houghton University continues its historical connection with the Wesleyan Church.

In 2006, the College named Dr. Shirley Mullen as the fifth president of Houghton College.

In 2021, the College named Wayne D. Lewis, Jr. as the sixth president of Houghton College.

In 2022, following the approval of the New York State Board of Regents, Houghton College became Houghton University.

Historic aerial black and white shot of Houghton College.

Houghton Presidents

  • James S. Luckey (1908-1937)
  • Stephen W. Paine (1937-1972)
  • Wilber Dayton (1972-1976)
  • Daniel R. Chamberlain (1976-2006)
  • Shirley Mullen (2006-2021)
  • Wayne D. Lewis, Jr. (2021-Present)


  • Gillette, Frieda, and Katherine Lindley. …And You Shall Remember: A Pictorial History of Houghton University (Houghton, NY, Houghton University, 1982)
  • Smith, Willard G. The History of Church-Controlled Colleges in the Wesleyan Methodist Church. (PhD diss, New York Univ, 1950)