Rowan Hall, or the Rowan Hall Art Center, is on the north side of Spring Street, opposite the end of Maple Street. Until 1970, Rowan Hall was just another building on Miami University's Oxford campus. That obscurity ended April 15, 1970, when the structure became the focus of an anti-war rally, part of a nationwide demonstration against the Vietnam War. The building had opened in 1949 to house the Navy ROTC program. It was named in honor of a distinguished admiral who served in three wars during 63 years in the U. S. Navy. Stephen Clegg Rowan was a Miami student in 1825-26 before earning a naval appointment Feb. 15, 1826. He was born Dec. 25, 1808, near Dublin, Ireland, and came to the United States at age 10 in 1818. He entered Miami University seven years later, listing Piqua, Ohio, as his hometown. In the spring of 1949, as the opening of the naval science armory approached, Dr. Ernest H. Hahne, Miami president, decided that an "outstanding person should be honored" in naming the building. A navy historian offered suggestions, including Rowan. Dr. Hahne said "the fact that Rowan attended Miami University should be given special consideration."
There was no naval academy or training stations in 1826 when Rowan left Miami. It was on-the-job training and Rowan's indoctrination was a historic cruise -- aboard the USS Vincennes when it became the first U. S. Navy ship to sail around the world, Sept. 3, 1826, to June 8, 1830. Rowan's first war was the Seminole War, serving on patrols off Florida's Gulf coast from October 1832 until May 1836. When the Mexican War erupted in 1846, Rowan was executive officer of the Cyane, a sloop in the Pacific squadron. The Cyane played a prominent part when the U. S. wrested control of California from Mexico. For Rowan, a highlight was July 29, 1846, when he led a platoon of marines on a five-mile march into San Diego, to what is known today as Old Town Plaza. There they raised the first U. S. flag in Southern California.
Rowan's action is considered the start of U. S. possession of San Diego, a port that became a major American naval installation. Rowan had a variety of peacetime assignments between 1848 and 1861, highlighted by promotion to commander Sept. 14, 1855.
By 1861 -- when the Civil War started -- Rowan had 35 years of naval service.
His varied experience had prepared him for the responsibilities he assumed in a changing U. S. Navy. His Civil War experiences are too numerous to recount here. They began on the Potomac River and along the Carolina coast.
His most effective service was as commander of an ironclad in Charleston Harbor. Commodore Rowan took charge of the USS New Ironsides off Charleston July 6, 1863. The 4,120-ton broadside ironclad was the last and largest of the first group of three salt water armored U. S. warships. (The others were the Galena and the Monitor, the latter famed for its March 9, 1862, combat with the Confederacy's Virginia, or the Merrimack, in the first battle between ironclads.) The New Ironsides guns had been fired only 334 times in 89 days, an average of 3.75 shots a day, between April 7 and July 6, 1863, under its previous commander. Under Rowan -- an aggressive, offensive-minded commander -- Naval Historian Donald Canney said the "New Ironsides proved to be probably the most useful single ironclad" of the Civil War. Between July 18 and Sept. 8, Rowan's guns fired 4,439 times and his ship was hit 164 times. The 4,439 shots from Rowan's ironclad were more than the total fired by five other monitors. June 8, 1864, Rowan was authorized to leave the squadron and lead the New Ironsides to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs. By then, the New Ironsides had been on Charleston blockade duty for 16 straight months. The 55-year-old Rowan had been aboard the New Ironsides 308 days when he received the order. The New Ironsides sailed into Philadelphia June 30 for needed repairs. After the war, on July 25, 1866, Rowan was promoted to rear admiral and appointed commander of the Norfolk Navy Yard, Aug. 7, 1866, until Aug. 15, 1867. He was commander-in-chief of the Asiatic squadron from Sept. 25, 1867, until Nov. 21, 1870, and promoted to vice admiral Aug. 15, 1870.
Rowan's later duties included command of the New York naval station, 1872-76; president of the board of examiners, 1879-81; governor of the Naval Asylum at Philadelphia, 1881; superintendent of the Naval Observatory, 1882; and, after January 1883, chairman of the lighthouse board, stationed in Washington, D. C. In 1871 he was appointed to a supervisory board for the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and was president of the board. Admiral Rowan -- who retired Feb. 26, 1889, with 63 years service -- died March 31, 1890, near Washington.
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