Chapter History

Cornell offers you an extraordinary opportunity for intellectual growth. But in today’s competitive world, that’s simply not enough. To the Greeks of ancient Athens, being competitive meant not merely the pursuit of excellence of your mind, but also your body, soul and spirit. In other words, being a one dimensional man just into scholarship, or athletics or community service wasn’t enough; only those men who pursued the multidimensional goals of becoming scholars, leaders, athletes and gentlemen rose to become true Athenians. This ideal was incorporated as a founding principle of our fraternity when we began as a local fraternity, Alpha Theta, in 1912, and continued when we affiliated with Pi Kappa Alpha almost 100 years ago, in 1917. Using that standard, over the last century, our history is one of which we’re proud, as we’ve leveraged this standard of excellence to develop and produce some compelling career successes.

17south53ec52a31ca01.jpgFrom its construction sometime around 1890 to 1913, Pike’s 17 South Avenue Lodge was the Cornell chapterhouse of Beta Theta Pi. In 1905, while living in the house, three of its members – Charles E. Tourison ’05, W. L. Umstad ’06 and William Forbes ’06 — composed the lyrics to Give My Regards to Davy, Cornell’s fight song, which they set to the music of George M. Cohan’s Give My Regards to Broadway. The frequency of Davy being sung is second only to the Cornell alma mater, Far Above Cayuga’s Waters.

While the Betas can be justly proud of their brothers’ role in writing Cornell’s fight song, we Pikes are equally proud to be the stewards and custodians of the historic structure where Give My Regards to Davy was written over 110 years ago.
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17 South Avenue was purchased and occupied in 1913-1914 by Alpha Theta, later Pi Kappa Alpha. Alpha Theta had been founded in 1912 in the kitchen of the home of Professor John Roscoe Turner at 407 Dryden Road.  Turner was a Princeton economics Ph.D., and went on to become the first dean at NYU, the dean at what is now CUNY, and the president of the University of West Virginia. During Turner’s CUNY tenure as dean, the college graduated seven future Nobel laureates, and eight Rhodes, Truman and Fulbright scholars. Two other Cornell professors joined Turner as co-founding faculty members: Walter Buckingham Carver, professor, and chairman of Cornell’s mathematics Department from 1906 to 1948, and a founding member of the Mathematics Association of America; and Clarence Albert “Doc” Pierce, PhD 1908, an assistant professor of electrical engineering. He joined the faculty of Worcester Polytech, where he served as Professor of Electrical Engineering from 1931, leading that department until his retirement. These three initiated a tradition of tight involvement in the chapter of faculty advisers.

Three undergraduate seniors played key roles in leading the founding of our fraternity: James B. “Bert” Hills, David W. “Kink” Carswell and Russell H. “Tickets” Kent.


The undergraduate founders in their first composite picture, ca. 1913 Warren Kent is front row, center; David Carswell is to the far left


Hills went on become an accomplished practicing architect in Minneapolis who designed over 200 award winning churches and synagogues, mostly in the upper Middle West. Three of them are on the National Register. Several projects were joint-ventured with Eero and Eliel Saarinen, who also designed the Pan Am terminal at LaGuardia, and the Gateway Arch and Plaza in St. Louis. Hills’ designs became a standard of design excellence for most churches constructed in the 1950s and 1960s; Carswell became the vice president of engineering and chief engineer at Texaco, which on his retirement was the largest marketer of refined petroleum products in North America; and Kent rose to become the CEO of his family business, Kent Mills in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, building it into what at the time was the largest woolen mill in the United States.

One of Cornell’s ideals is captured on an inscription attributed to Andrew Dickson White on the Eddy Street Gate in Collegetown: So enter that daily thou mayest become more learned and thoughtful. So depart that daily thou mayest become more useful to thy country and to mankind.