3. Columbia University, 1754

Now an Ivy League school, Columbia University has an equally complex, ambitious history. Established in 1754 as King’s College through a royal charter from England’s King George II, it is now the oldest higher education institution in New York (and the fifth oldest in the United States). City officials and Anglicans argued over the school’s location and religious affiliation, which is to be the Church of England.

Samuel Johnson taught the first classes to just eight students on the first floor of a Trinity Church schoolhouse. Despite this small start, in 1767, Columbia became the first American medical school to offer the M.D. degree. This flourishing ceased with the American Revolution, when instruction stopped from 1776 to 1784.

Afterwards, the college looked to the State of New York for assistance in restoration, and the state consequently started a Board of Regents to direct the college. However, its reputed students and trustees – John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and Robert Livingston – ensured its continued prominence, and it reopened as a more diverse institution in 1784 with the official name “Columbia College.”

From 1857 to the end of the century, the college moved to 49th street and Madison Avenue; here, the college underwent the bulk of its development. The Columbia School of Law was established in 1858, the all-women’s Barnard College became affiliated in 1889, and graduate-level amenities were created.

In 1897, under President Seth Low, it relocated to its current location in Morningside Heights on the location of the former Bloomingdale Asylum.