Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Mount Morris College

At the time of the founding of Ashland College (note yesterday's entry), another effort to establish an institution of higher education among the German Baptist Brethren began in Illinois.

Unlike the colleges that had already been founded by groups or individuals within the brotherhood, the college at Mt. Morris had a history of almost forty years under the jurisdiction of the Methodists in Illinois before a group of Brethren bought the property. The college had been known as Rock River Seminary since its founding in 1838. In 1871 the operation of the school was temporarily suspended until it was reopened two years later. However, due to the heavy financial burden of the school and the establishment of Northwestern University, Rock River Seminary closed its doors.

J.H. Moore, publisher of the Brethren at Work urged the establishment of a school for the Brethren in Illinois by calling an educational meeting in the Silver Creek congregation near Mt. Morris. At the meeting, Melchor Newcomer, a prominent minister of the Brethren and successful merchant in and around Mt. Morris, claimed that the Rock River property could be bought for $6,000 and offered to contribute one-half of the funds. The other funds were collected and at another meeting citizens of the town demonstrated their enthusiasm and support for the project.

On August 20, 1879, Mt. Morris Seminary and Collegiate Institute opened its doors. More than 200 students were enrolled by the end of the first year and there was a faculty of eight. In 1882 D. L. Miller was elected president succeeding John Stein who had abandoned his post and his family. At the end of the first year, however, Miller took a trip to Europe, leaving the school in the hands of S.Z. Sharp, the only teacher who was a member of the German Baptist Brethren. Sharp had been the first president of Ashland College, but resigned when it came under the control of Progressive Brethren.

By 1883, Mt. Morris College had entered a very difficult period. Leadership of the college was crippled by Stein's sudden departure and Miller's lack of academic training. The college also faced a financial crisis so critical that negotiations were begun for the sale of the property to the Studebaker wagon manufacturing company. However, this move created concern and anger among students and the citizens of the town, resulting in the board's search for a president. J.G. Royer, superintendent of schools in Monticello, Indiana and founder of the Burnett's Creek Normal School, came to Mt. Morris, invested heavily of his own funds in the college, and accepted the presidency where he served for the next twenty years.

The college grew steadily until tragedy struck the school. On January 15, 1912, a fire gutted the main campus building. While the administration decided to rebuild, its preseident resigned and the institution was beset by financial difficulties for the next 17 years when a second disastrous fire struck the college in 1931. That led to a decision to merge the college with Manchester College following the 1931-32 academic year.

Source: The Brethren Encyclopedia