In 1859, local citizens generated a proposal for the creation of a seminary in Clarion. The proposal was forwarded to the Erie Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, but Civil War engulfed the nation before any action could be taken. The proposal lay dormant, eventually revived by the end of the war and the upcoming centennial celebration of American Methodism.
Preachers and laymen convened March 13, 1866, in Clarion to initiate the establishment of a seminary. It is the earliest recorded evidence of an institution of higher education for Clarion, according to Caldwell's Illustrated Historical Combination Atlas of Clarion County.
Lacking facilities of its own, classes were held in the old academy building. The Seminary was a coeducational institution with the Rev. James G. Townsend as principal and Miss A.E. Rinehart as preceptress.
Carrier Seminary offered a normal program as early as 1871. The courses of study included ancient and modern classics, mathematics, natural sciences, commercial calculation, painting, drawing, penmanship, music and normal science. Carrier was described as "the only Normal College for the perfection of teachers under the supervision of the M.E. Church."
Financial woes, competition for students, and lack of support – both financial and
administrative – led to the demise of Carrier. On Sept. 10, 1886, exactly 19 years
from the day classes first met, the buildings and grounds were sold.
Clarion State Normal School, the successor to Carrier Seminary, opened its doors on the old Seminary grounds April 12, 1887. The first faculty of Clarion State Normal School consisted of 11 members.
Davis' era of principalship was one of growth, expansion, development and partial maturation. Between his first and last years at the helm, enrollment grew from 149 to 509. As early as 1890, Clarion was outdrawing more heavily populated normal school districts and by 1895 was sixth in enrollment among the 13 state normal schools.
Growth was evident. A student cadet corps was formed in 1891. During the Spanish American War, Davis, a major, and a number of his cadets served with the National Guard from April 1898 to January 1899.