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Random Reminiscences from Restoration History From SCC to Bethany Part I

by Dale Jorgenson

During my senior year at Harding University (1947-48) the school brought well-known preacher and writer G. C. Brewer as an adjunct professor to the campus to teach a class in Restoration Movement history.   Brewer was known among Churches of Christ as a minister who taught—sometimes as a lonesome voice– that the grace of God was totally responsible for individual salvation.  He was also a veteran debater, and the class offering was very attractive to many senior students.  I looked forward to studying under this man, and was particularly fascinated by the thought of studying the story of the Stone-Campbell Movement, about which I knew very little, under his direction.

            Brewer’s class was as exciting as we expected, and as a recent veteran I was allowed to purchase Dr. Robert Richardson’s famous Memoirs of Alexander Campbell on my GI Bill of Rights.  Long after the class had generated excitement about our history, I continued to read and re-read Richardson’s story of the Sage of Bethany, the inspiring saga of the beginnings of the Restoration Movement in what was the old dominion of Virginia in the early nineteenth century.

            My fascination was redoubled by the fact that one year before the class in Restoration history, I had married Mary Lee Strawn, whose native homestead was situated about twenty-five miles from Bethany and the center of the Campbell story.  Upon our first trip to Mary Lee’s home, her father lent us his Dodge stretch sedan to drive over the beautiful West Virginia hills for my first glimpse of Bethany and Bethany College.[i]

            In the academic year 1958-59 my family and I were living in Denton, Texas where I was teaching at Texas Woman’s University.  We had made three trips back to Wheeling for family occasions, a trip which before interstate roads took us twenty-seven continuous hours and which was exhausting with our family of four children.    One evening as we sat around the dinner table, the telephone rang, and the voice at the other end of the line announced, “This is Perry Gresham, President of Bethany College.  How would you like to come head our music department beginning next fall?”

            We did have serious concerns about the liberalism we anticipated facing on the Bethany campus, but with the romantic love affair we had carried about the place for years, this was almost Utopia being offered.  When my family heard of the possibility of living twenty-five miles from Grandma’s house, there would be no way of turning down such an offer, even though the “department” I was to head consisted of only two other people and me.

            So over the summer we packed up our furniture, loaded the family bus and traversed the twenty-seven hour trip back to Brooke County, West Virginia, in the northern panhandle of that state.   With the help of the college, we were able to purchase a home which faced Buffalo Creek (the creek in which both Alexander and Thomas Campbell were baptized) and half a mile away (in plain sight during the winter months) was the famous round study of Alexander Campbell.   The first impression one receives, after driving the winding road to Bethany from any direction, is that of the natural beauty of the area.  Campbell had described the setting he wanted for his college in a Millennial Harbinger article three years before the school’s opening:

                 In the first place, the location must be rural—in the country, detached from all  external society; not convenient to any town or place of rendezvous—in the midst  of forests, fields, and gardens—salubrious air, pure water—diversified scenery of hills and valleys.  Limpid brooks, and meandering streams of rapid flowing water.Such is the spot which I have selected.[ii]

              The architecture of the village of Bethany, first named as a town when Alexander Campbell felt the increasing need for a local post office for his extensive mailings in 1827, grabs one’s attention as the  traveler enters the village of Bethany from the east.  The first notable building is the Campbell home (the “Campbell mansion”) just across the Buffalo Creek from the town.  The house, originally dating from late in the eighteenth century, was a gift from Campbell’s father-in-law in 1816.  As both the family and the visitors’ list grew, additions were made on the original structure, part of which were added when Campbell opened the Buffalo Seminary in 1818 in hopes of developing a ministry for the growing number of churches related to the Movement.  The house, together with the entire Bethany complex and Old Main on the campus, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

            Next to the mansion is the recently-dedicated office and library of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society.  The Society, designed to serve all the branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement, began under the librarian at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri, moved to Nashville into an elegant building largely funded by the Phillips family of Pennsylvania, and most recently to the campus of Bethany College.  This facility was not yet present during the period when my family and I were residing in Bethany.  The handsome reading porch is named for the former Director of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Dr. Peter Morgan, and his wife Lynne, both of whom gave years of their lives for the preservation of documents relating to the total Stone-Campbell Movement. 

            In the spacious yard of the mansion sits the famous round study building, designed and occupied for many years as Campbell stood at the desk and penned thousands of pages of copy for The Christian Baptist, The Millennial Harbinger, and numerous books and pamphlets.

            Up a rise in front of the mansion lies “God’s Acre,” the Campbell family cemetery where many of the members of the family are buried, along with numerous leaders in the Restoration Movement.  Career members of the Bethany College faculty are also permitted the privilege of interment in the Campbell cemetery.  The cemetery is encompassed by a concrete wall, and is entered by a style which visitors and pallbearers must climb over to gain entrance into the cemetery proper.  Alexander Campbell’s monument is among the more prominent stones in the little burying ground.

Proceeding on West Virginia Route 67 over the Buffalo Creek bridge and into the village, the Old Meeting House is situated to the left.  The “old” house was designed by Alexander Campbell himself, and essentially accorded with his ideals for the ideal worship center as described in the 1834 Millennial Harbinger

            It should be a one story house, without steeple, galleries, or pulpit.  The floor should be an inclined plane, descending from the entrance one foot in every eight  or ten.  The Lord’s table and the seats for the elders of the congregation should be  at the remote end, opposite to the entrance, and consequently on the lowest part of the floor, visible to every eye in the house.  To those acquainted with the philosophy  of sound, it would be unnecessary to say anything on the superior ease of speaking and of hearing in a house so fashioned; nor is it necessary to say that the facility of seeing the speakers would be equal to the facility of speaking and hearing.  These are matters most important.[iii]

              The Old Meeting House at Bethany had separate doors for single women and single men, although families were counseled to sit together.   Upon entering the doors, one faced the entire congregation passing the pulpit and the communion table.  It was impossible to arrive late and slip into the building without being observed by the entire congregation![iv]

Robert Richardson discussed the desire for simplicity in all matters of Christian worship in his biography of Alexander Campbell:  He loved to see the utmost simplicity in the order and worship of the house of God. He delighted in the public reading of the scriptures, the plain and earnest exhortations of the brotherhood, and in solemn psalms and hymns of praise.  He had no relish for anything formal or artificial, such as the repetitions in fugue tunes or the establishment of singing choirs.  As to the use of musical instruments in worship, he was utterly opposed to it, and took occasion on a later period to remark in regard to it that it was well adapted to churches ‘founded on the Jewish pattern of things’ and  practicing sprinkling.[v]

               There was one notable exception to the prescription for minimalism, however.  In

1851,  Alexander Campbell was exercised about the lack of a proper meeting house in Washington, DC, the “crossroads of the world.”  Acknowledging the dearth of comfortable buildings for worship by the Disciples in many hamlets, he still affirmed the need of a large and commodious house in the nation’s capitol.[vi]   

            The Hibernia House where the Millennial Harbinger was printed and published, starting at about the time of the founding of Bethany College in 1940, is now a home for official guests of Bethany College, the Renner Guest House for Visiting Scholars, and has even served temporarily as a home for the college president.  

            The architectural glory of Bethany, however, is further down the Main Street, through the Oglebay Gates of the College, and on top of the hill  where Old Main is located.  Old Main            

was constructed through several phases, including a difficult time in 1859 after the eastern part burned and Alexander Campbell was forced to go on a fund-raising trip in his advanced years to rebuild.  The principal part of the red brick building was designed by James Keys Wilson, a Cincinnati architect who had studied under James Renwick, designer of the Smithsonian Museum.  It has been suggested that the Museum design may have had some indirect influence upon Old Main, along with input from others including W. K. Pendleton, Campbell’s son-in-law and second president of Bethany College.

            Through a number of metamorphoses, the ultimate building contained three sections, Old Main as the anchor and site of the tower in the middle section, Commencement Hall on the West, and Oglebay Hall on the east end where science sections and other academic fields were situated.  The back of the hall had a continuous exposed arcade, a rallying place for students and for breaks between classes.  There has been some speculation as to whether there was a place for horses for commuting students and faculty along this airy causeway. The tower erected above Old Main was 124 feet in height, a phenomenon reported upon in various newspapers and a point of pride to the Bethany family.  The Cincinnati Gazette reported in 1858:

                        The style of architecture is the Collegiate Gothic, and the irregular outline,  with the tower and the finials give a very pleasing effect.  The walls are to be of  brick, laid in the very best manner, and the roofs are to be covered with the best description of Pennsylvania slate.  The doors and the window sills, lintels and hoods, steps, flagging, cornices, wall and tower coping, roof crochets, finials, gargoyle  blocks, and all outside moulded and ornamented work are to be of free-stone.  The  interior wood work is to be of white pine, and all the carpenter work, as well as  every other department is to be done in the best manner.[vii]      

                Twenty-six years after her husbands’ death Campbell’s widow, Selina, wrote about her agreement with Alexander in preference for simple things in worship and church architecture.

A bit later, however, she could not help rhapsodizing about Old Main: No college building in these United States presents a more beautiful and imposing experience than does the Gothic structure of Bethany College on the lovely eminence on which it is situated, with Buffalo Creek meandering  through meandering meadows………But I was going to remark that the chapel  attached to Bethany College, in which they hold their commencement exhibitions, is quite a grand structure.  It is well seated, and the beautiful window of stained glass, on which the names of the donors are inscribed, add to its  beauty and magnificence in appearance.[viii]

                Apparently noting some dissonance between her emphasis upon religious simplicity and the grandeur of Bethany, she commented, “I presume such decorations are allowable in a college building, if anywhere.”[ix]

            The very top of the hill on which Old Main presides (currently with several additional academic structures having been built in the last century) is crowned with Pendleton Heights, the handsome brick home named for Bethany’s second president, W. K. Pendleton.  Originally built as a small “box-like” structure in 1841 (commensurate with the official opening of the College), it was developed into a Gothic-style two-story home with steep gables and arched windows by Pendleton in 1857  It was designed to complement the design of Old Main, which sits only a few yards down the hill.

No introduction to Bethany’s architecture would be complete without the essential and always-helpful Chambers Store, dating from c.1900.  This may have been the most cogent unit in town for a family moving into the village.           The next installment will record some of the impressions and experiences of our family arriving in Bethany for the fall semester, 1959.

 

          Dale Jorgenson is a retired College Bible teacher and a retired College Choir Director

 

 

[i] Bethany College, founded in 1840, was started in the Old Dominion of Virginia.  The Mountain State became the thirty-fifth state of the Union when it seceded from Virginia in 1863, the only state which came into existence by seceding from a Confederate state.  Archibald Campbell, Alexander Campbell’s nephew,who was serving as Editor of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, contended vigorously for a separate state, and is credited by many as having been the ultimate influence upon President Lincoln in approving the admission of the state into the Union.

[ii] Alexander Campbell, Millennial Harbinger (1837) 3:132

[iii] “Meeting Houses” in Millennial Harbinger (1834) 1:7-8

[iv] Which happened to our family one summer as we visited from Missouri and were misled about the opening time by the notice in the Wheeling paper.  After the service lots of old friends greeted us because they all watched us walk in—late.  The original Church of Christ at Bethany was founded in 1829, and the first building was constructed in 1832.  It was at that building that the aging Thomas Campbell was brought by horses and sled (the buggy was too high for him) to deliver his final sermon in 1851.  Leroy Garrett, delivering his own  “Valedictory” at Abilene Christian University in 2013, began his presentation with a reference to the Bethany sled.  On his notes for that address, the word “sled” is hand-written in red ink to remind him.  That address is available on line.

[v] Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Cincinnati:  Standard Publishing, 1897) 2:658n.

[vi] Millennial Harbinge, 1851:354.  See “Connections,” Word and Work, August 2016 for the saga of the journey of G. D. Knepper from the dedication of the National City Christian Church in 1930 to his position on the staff of

KBC/SCC in the middle 1950’s.  

[vii] Copied in the Millennial Harbinger, 1858:7:417.

[viii] Selina H. Campbell, Homelife and Reminiscences of Alexander Campbell (St. Louis:  John Burns, 1882), 443.

[ix] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




One Response to “Random Reminiscences from Restoration History From SCC to Bethany Part I”

  1. D.L. McGee says:

    Dale,

    Thanks again. Your articles are very interesting and much needed in order to educate our people regarding our history.

    Don McGee



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