<p>The <a href="https://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/biblical_heritage_exhibits/"><em>Biblical Heritage Gallery</em></a>, a service of University Archives and Special Collections, is located on the upper level of the Centennial Library at <a href="https://www.cedarville.edu">Cedarville University</a>. It is open during regular <a href="https://cedarville.libcal.com/hours/"> library hours</a>. This exhibit will be on display during January and February 2022.</p>

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Each year, during the month of January, Cedarville University celebrates Charter Day, a day to commemorate its founding on January 26, 1887. The five founders of then Cedarville College comprised a committee formed by the Reformed Presbyterian Synod to find a place to establish a Christian college for their young people and to obtain a charter from the state of Ohio to officially sanction and establish that college. Rehearsing the history of the university, two significant years brought times of crises, the first the year 1890, when the dream of the college almost died, and the second the year 1953, when the college itself almost died. Using important documents and depictions from the University Archives, this exhibit reviews that first crisis with a journey starting in 1887 when the founders obtained the charter to establish Cedarville College, to 1891 when a benefactor provided funds at a time when failure was imminent, to 1894 when the first classes were launched, and to 1897 when five graduates participated in the first commencement. Since that first graduation celebration, there has been a commencement at Cedarville every year, this year being the 126th, demonstrating God’s faithfulness to that early dream of the founders.

Display Case One
Display Case One

The Founders

The five founders of Cedarville College, Thomas Gibson, Richard Park, Hugh McMillan, Hugh McCollum, and James Morton, the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cedarville, comprised a committee formed by the Reformed Presbyterian Synod in 1885 to find a place to establish a Christian college for their young people. The founders prepared an Articles of Incorporation, which states the purpose of the college. “The object of said corporation is not profit, but to secure to its members and patrons the advantages of education in all departments of learning and knowledge and especially education according to the rules and disciplines of The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, to promote the interests of said Church.” With that document in hand, they obtained a charter from the state of Ohio on January 26, 1887, which provided the legal authority for the college to exist. It is still the charter under which the University operates today. With charter in hand, property was purchased in 1888 from the Orr family by one of the founders, the 9.3 acres on which Founders Hall now sits. So, the fund-raising efforts now began. Unfortunately, by 1890, in the absence of meaningful financial support, the founders and first trustees of Cedarville College found themselves facing the end of their dream. In fact, at the 1890 trustee meeting, there was a recommendation “that the whole enterprise be abandoned, that the treasurer be instructed to sell the lot...refund the money that had been contributed... and cancel the subscriptions.” Fortunately, the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian church did not accept the recommendation. But what had started with much enthusiasm was now handicapped by a lack of sufficient funds to continue.

Display Case Two
Display Case Two

The Benefactor

At the height of the funding crisis, the trustees received word in 1891 of a $25,000 bequest made to Cedarville College from the estate of the late Mr. William Gibson of Cincinnati. William had been a partner with his father, Peter, in the plumbing business in Cincinnati and was active in a Reformed Presbyterian church there. He was not only a business owner, but also a philanthropist who became, according to his obituary, a “substantial citizen” of Cincinnati. In the preparation of his will, William had pledged significant assets to a number of Presbyterian denominational agencies, but none as large as the amount specified for Cedarville College. It should be noted that the will was written in 1888 while Cedarville College existed only in the name printed on its charter received the year before. There was no campus. There was no faculty. There were no students. There was no assurance humanly speaking that any of that would happen. What is interesting is that the will was signed by Thomas Gibson, one of the three executors of the will and a cousin of William, who was also at that time the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Cedarville College and one of the five founders. Could it be that Thomas had taken it upon himself to remind William that this new school, proposed in Cedarville to minister to the youth of the Reformed Presbyterian churches, needed resources to launch its ministry to those students? In 1891, after a short illness, William Gibson died. Thus, a substantial bequest came to the trustees of Cedarville College at a most critical moment when they were considering abandoning the project. This was a substantial gift. In today’s dollars that $25,000 represents over $750,000, a significant gift today as it certainly was in 1891. This exciting news revitalized the interest in getting the college launched.

Display Case Four
Display Case Four

The Firsts

A college catalog, the first, was prepared for the second year, 1895/96. The cost for that entire year including room and board was set at $117. What is today called Founders Hall was constructed in 1895, primarily funded by subscriptions, and the building was occupied for the first time during the fall of 1895. The first yearbook was prepared in 1896. Saturday, June 10, 1897, dawned with the prospect of attending the first graduation at Cedarville College, announced for many by the first commencement invitation. The graduation exercises for five seniors, John W. Bickett, Raymond P. Gorbold, Homer McMillan, Calvin C. Morton, and J. Alvin Orr, would be held at the Opera House in downtown Cedarville. Martha McMillan, whose son Homer was in that graduating class, recorded her impressions of that day in her journal: “Rev. Charles Frederick Pass of Cincinnati delivered the class oration. The principle thought he tried to impress on the class was to consecrate, devote, and dedicate their life—soul and body to the best and highest good in life. The blessings and privileges we enjoy today are the gift and sacrifices of those who have gone before us.” Even with the impact of the future challenges of World War I, the great depression, World War II, and the college’s financial crises of the 1950s, there has not been a year since 1897 without a commencement at Cedarville University. This is in no small measure the result of the gift of William Gibson, but also of the perseverance of those early founders and leaders, and many who followed them, who were committed to a Christian education for their young people.