Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A College in New Windsor

The campus which is now home to the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, was purchased in 1849 by Andrew Baker as land on which to build a college campus for a school that was already flourishing under his direction in town.

The academic tradition in New Windsor must have been well established by the mid-nineteenth century. Not only was there a lovely setting for a college on the hill, but local educators were working vigorously to provide quality training and worthwhile experiences for Maryland youth. In 1850 the college was known as Calvert College and was incorporated and operated under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church until financial difficulties forced its closure in 1866.

A few years later the school was purchased by a Presbyterian minister and the name changed to New Windsor College. The college continued to face financial problems until 1913 when the Church of the Brethren purchased the property and moved Blue Ridge College from Union Bridge a few miles away.

The Brethren were aggressive in building for the future. They remodeled Old Main, built Windsor Hall in 1914, a gymnasium-auditorium in 1915; and in 1920 they added Becker Hall to provide classrooms and a men's dormitory. But such efforts, along with movements to improve the educational program, could not assure the permanent endowment resources the school needed to meet the economic challenges of World War I and the depression years that would follow. Also Church of the Brethren congregations in the East were already helping to support three church-related colleges within a few hundred miles of New Windsor. In 1927 Blue Ridge College became a junior college but even that change could not guarantee its survival.

In 1937, the college was sold to a private group of educators from New Jersey and New York, who hoped to expand and enlarge the college while retaining the name. But the future for the college was hardly promising and the college closed its doors in 1942 and the property returned to the Brethren trustees. A public auction was scheduled for September 6, 1944.

But the utilization of the facilities for other purposes had already occurred to some Brethren. L.W. Schultz, a member of the first Brethren Service Committee, would later recall the day in 1944 when BSC met in New Windsor and purchased the property for a service center. M.R. Zigler, the staff executive for BSC who negotiated the purchase for an amount that would at least cover the indebtedness for the former college, later stated: We didn't really know what we were doing, but we were convinced that Brethren Service was a long-range program.

Tomorrow: more on the Service Center.

Source: New Windsor Center, Kenneth Morse