Skip to main content

Stony Brook University

SBU: History and Timeline: Home

Information and Resources about the History of Stony Brook University.

Watch the film "Stony Brook's First Alumni: Reunion and Reflections"

From June 6 to June 8, 2014, a reunion weekend was held at Stony Brook University and at Planting Fields at Oyster Bay (first campus), in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Classes of 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964, and reuniting the Founders Group, classes of 1961-1966. At Planting Fields, alumni were interviewed about their experiences and reflections of their time at the Oyster Bay campus and transitioning to the new campus in Stony Brook. Photographs from the University Archives are featured in the 16 minute film.

Stony Brook University: An Overview

Stony Brook, a comprehensive university center in New York State’s public higher education system, emerged from humbler beginnings as a small, teacher preparatory college in Oyster Bay only fifty years ago.  The Board of Trustees of the State University of New York issued their recommendation for the establishment of a new state-supported and operated college on Long Island on April 15, 1955.
First graduation ceremony at Planting Fields, Oyster Bay, New York, 1961.

After two years of careful deliberations and intensive planning, SUNY announced the opening of the State University College on Long Island. The Board of Regents authorized William Robertson Coe's exquisite 350-acre former arboretum-estate, Planting Fields, as a temporary campus, while a new campus was prepared in historic Stony Brook, on a 480-acre tract of land donated by philanthropist Ward Melville. The first day of classes commenced on September 17, 1957.

One hundred and forty-eight students were enrolled in classes at the tuition-free, State University College on Long Island at Oyster Bay. The College's administrators were served with the mandate to "prepare teachers of science and mathematics for secondary schools and community colleges." Course offerings were initially limited to Humanities, English (Communications), German, Social Sciences, Education, Mathematics, and Natural Science. SUNY expanded the College’s scope a year later to include degree programs in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering. 

The preparation of the Stony Brook campus began in 1959, when the State University of New York embarked on a $150 million building program on 480 acres of woodlands in Stony Brook. The construction coincided with issuance of the 1960 Heald Report, a study of New York State's higher education programs commissioned by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. This report recommended that a major new university center be established on Long Island to "stand with the finest in the country." On April 8, 1960, Governor Rockefeller, Ward Melville, and Frank C. Moore, Chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees, turned the first spades of dirt at the formal groundbreaking ceremonies in Stony Brook. The new campus was designated a university center on June 6, 1960 and subsequently renamed the State University of New York, Long Island Center.

Dr. John Francis Lee was appointed as the University's first president on January 1, 1961. His mandate from SUNY was to convert the Long Island Center from a science and engineering college to a full-scale university, complete with liberal arts and sciences programs and a graduate school. Although these edicts were fulfilled, Dr. Lee left this post amidst political controversy in November 1961. SUNY President Dr. Thomas H. Hamilton was subsequently appointed as Acting Administrative Head of the University.

The Stony Brook campus opened on Sunday, September 16, 1962 with 780 students enrolled in its programs. The first buildings to be constructed were the Humanities and Chemistry Buildings and a single, corridor-style dormitory named “G Dorm,” comprised of two wings connected by a cafeteria. This building also housed the administrative and faculty offices, the student newspaper, student government offices, and the infirmary. The University continued to embark on a series of expansion projects to meet the needs of its soaring enrollment. By 1964, the University offered 232 courses within fourteen academic departments in the College of Arts and Sciences and thirty courses under four departments in the College of Engineering.


Director & Associate Librarian

Kristen J. Nyitray's picture
Kristen J. Nyitray
Director, Special Collections & University Archives
University Archivist
Associate Librarian
E-2320, Melville Library
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11794-3323
t: 631.632.7119
f: 631.632.1829