This institution had a visible existence of four years, from 1853 to 1857. This brief career, however, was but part of a movement which had been going on for nearly a quarter of a century. In 1833 was organized at Cincinnati the Western Baptist Education Society which was also incorporated in 1835. This society included in its purpose the entire Mississippi valley, north and south. The preamble of its constitution was written by Dr. Jonathan Going, second president of Granville College, now Denison University. It states the purpose of the society to be "an improvement in quality and an increase in the number of the ministry." Among its directors in 1834 were gentlemen from six Southern States, as well as from various States of the North-west. The Rev. S. W. Lynd, D. D., was its first president, and he was succeeded by Hon. James M. Hoyt, of Cleveland, and the Rev. D. B. Cheney, of Columbus, O.
A convention in the interest of this society was held at the Ninth Street Baptist Church in Cincinnati, at which fifty-nine delegates were present, representing the Baptists of the North-west. Soon afterward a small amount, five, or perhaps only three thousand dollars was collected in Ohio, and in 1835 was invested in real estate in Covington, Ky. Within ten years a sum of sixty-two thousand dollars was realized from this investment, by the sale of lots; a large four story brick building was erected in Covington, and in 1845 an institution known as the Western Baptist Theological Institute began its sessions therein, having both a theological and a literary department. In the latter Prof. Asa Drury was principal, while in the theological seminary instruction was given by R. E. Pattison, Ebenezer Dodge and E. G. Robinson. Among the graduates of this institution were the Rev. Wm. Moore, late of Middletown, O., for a time a missionary in Burmah, Rev. Dr. Burleson, for many years president of Baylor and Waco Universities in Texas, and Wm. Ashmore, D. D., the veteran Missionary to China. Several years afterward the southern members of the Board of Trustees, without the knowledge of the rest, secured an act of the Kentucky Legislature, increasing the number of Southern Trustees to such an extent that the control of the Institute was thrown into southern hands. The effect of this was the resignation of the Professors in 1848, and the withdrawal of the Northern Trustees, leaving a property valued at from $150,000 to $200,000 in the control of men whose contribution to the endowment had been only $15.00. The building is now occupied as a Roman Catholic hospital.
It was hardly to be expected that Baptists north of the Ohio would consent to see a cherished undertaking, which they had fostered for fifteen years, finally defeated in such a way. On June 22, 1848, a meeting of the Education Society was held in Cincinnati to consider the project of a new seminary. In July, 1848, four persons, acting on their own responsibility, purchased the Walker farm, comprising the whole of the hill Fairmount except the slope south of a line running east and west along the ridge, a tract of 178 acres, extending from Mill Creek westward over the summit and back a quarter of a mile or more. It was at the time one of the most beautiful of the hills that encircled Cincinnati, with a fine outlook on the city. Thirty acres of this land were set apart for a theological seminary, viz: ten acres on the summit of the hill at the east front, and twenty acres at the extreme west of the farm An exaggerated estimate valued these tracts at $20,000 each, or $40,000 for the whole. A company was organized to hold the other property in ten shares, and was known as the Fairmount Land Company. In May, 1849, the Education Society voted to accept the donation, and called a convention which assembled at the Ninth Street Baptist Church, October 31, 1849. This assemblage consisted of seventy-eight delegates, and was attended by representative men from Boston, New York and Pennsylvania, from six associations of Ohio, and from Indiana and Michigan. Among those present were "Father Bennett," of New York, Nathaniel Colver, of Boston, and Missionaries Bronson, of Assam, and Vinton, of Burmah. It had for its scope missions in general, but its special object was the proposed new seminary.
This meeting was regarded as "one of the most remarkable ever held in the West." Eloquent speakers argued that the West must have a theological seminary of its own. Said Dr. Colver, "If you send young men to New York to be educated, you need not expect those who possess talent to return. The New Yorkers will keep the flour and send you the bran." It was argued that Cincinnati was the best place for such an institution, being " the commercial emporium of the West, and accessible to Indiana and Illinois, as well as Ohio." As to the securing of the necessary funds, Father Bennett called attention to the small financial beginnings of foreign missions, and of the New York Education Society, in contrast with the grand results. He exclaimed, "Trust God and be successful. I do not know where the means will come from: they may be dug out of those hills; but they will surely come." At a meeting in Cleveland seven months later, Rev. E. G. Robinson said, "The providence of God is calling us, almost as plainly as a voice from heaven, to go forward and do the work. In such circumstances to talk of dollars and cents is nothing short of insanity." Dr. Hall, afterward president of Granville College, said it was "easier to endow a great educational institution in the West than in the East." To what extent these utterances were warranted may be judged by the facts that in 1828 the total number of Baptists in Ohio was but 8,000, half of them known as "anti-mission," and that probably in all the state not much, if any, more than $1,000 was paid for pastoral support," while during the seven years preceding this convention contributions for missions throughout the State had averaged a little more than $14,000 per year. The event proved that only Ohio could be depended upon, and she was already supporting a college and an academy.
The convention visited Fairmount, and returning full of enthusiasm, voted to raise $50,000, of which Ohio was to furnish $30,000. Ten citizens of Cincinnati subscribed $10,000. The convention adjourned with the firm conviction that they had inaugurated an enterprise of the greatest moment. They pictured Cincinnati as destined to be "for ages the commercial emporium of empires," to have "the spaces between her hills filled with millions," to hold a central relation to the North-west and to "the teeming millions of the world." Hence, they argued the magnificence of the enterprise of founding "a great central theological seminary for the North-west."
An address was issued by the Executive Committee, the Rev. John L. Moore, an able and attractive preacher, well-known through the State, was appointed general agent to collect funds, etc., while the Rev. O. N. Sage acted as financial agent. Various Associations of the State passed resolutions of approval, as did also the State Conventions of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. 800,000 bricks were burned for the new building near its site, and on June 10,1851, the corner-stone was laid, the address being delivered by Rev. E. G. Robinson, pastor of the Ninth Street Church. He chose his topic from the account of Elisha's school of the prophets, calling attention to the fact that theological students had always been poor, as seen in the cry of the young man that the axe which fell into the water was a borrowed one.
Up to October 1852, pledges to the amount of $23,535.02 had been obtained, of which about one-third had been paid. Dr. Moore reported that misapprehensions in regard to the work had spread through the States; which means that a mischievous and mistaken report had been circulated, that the seminary project was a mere appendage to a scheme for a speculation in land.
On July 2, 1853, Prof. Edmund Turney, of Madison University, N. Y., was elected professor of Biblical literature and Interpretation, and Marsena Stone, D. D., principal of the preparatory department and professor of English. These gentlemen occupied these positions during the entire career of the seminary, being assisted during a part of the period by Lyman J. Fisher and another student Prof. John Stevens also assisted as instructor for a time. The salaries of the two professors were fixed at $1,000, and were subsequently increased to $1,200 each.
The building was now nearly completed. It was a Gothic structure of brick, 112 feet, 8 inches in length, 54 feet, 8 inches broad, four stories in height, besides
a basement above ground, the summit crowned with eight pinnacles, capped with iron finials. It had room for forty students, a chapel at the north end, whose dimensions were 44 x 41 feet, and 25 feet in height, a library across the second story, south end, 40 x 25 feet. The total cost was $20,8051.99. The students' rooms were furnished by the ladies of churches in Lebanon, Franklin, Lockland, Hamilton, Piqua and the First Church in Dayton, First Cleveland and Ninth Street, Cincinnati.
The seminary began its exercises October 27, 1853. During the first year there were seventeen students, ten of them being from Ohio. A library of 1,300 volumes had been secured, to which subsequently were added 2,363 volumes, purchased from the seminary in Covington for $4,200. After the discontinuance this library was transferred to Denison University.
The data for the further history of the seminary from this time on within the reach of the writer of this record, are exceedingly meager. At the commencement exercises, held in the chapel June 17,1857, five speakers were represented on the programme, and a sixth senior was reported who was unable to be present. In 1855 the financial report shows that subscriptions had been received for $26,224.49, of which $19,874.59 had been paid. During the year receipts had been $5,829.28, expenses, $7,098.03, including interest paid to the amount of $1,868.80, leaving thus for the year a deficit of $1,269.35, with a total indebtedeess of more than $12,000. The increase of this indebtedness during the following two years, with the financial embarrassment of the land company, led to the discontinuance of the seminary. The property fell into the sheriff's hands, and was purchased by a German, who devoted the building and grounds to the purpose of a shooting park. This enterprise was a failure. The building was at last destroyed by fire, and a few years before the date of this writing the remaining walls were removed.
Thus ended an enterprise which was born of a high and noble purpose, and was fostered with a perseverance worthy of better success. Doubtless, the example of the seminary in Covington favored a mistaken expectation that the enhancement of land values would assure the prosperity of this undertaking also. The prominence of Cincinnati at that time as the "Queen of the West," generated expectations of her future relative importance which were not destined to be realized. It is much easier now than it was then, to see that the providence of God was preparing other issues. The Baptists of the South now have their flourishing theological school at Louisville; while the seat of theological instruction for the Baptists of the North-west is, where it should be, at Chicago, the greatest center of theological seminaries in the world; although fifty years ago the name was hardly known. The entire record may furnish occasion for comment on the familiar saying: "Man proposes, but God disposes."
Something of an offset to this story of failure may be found in the fact that the only Protestant theological seminary in or near Cincinnati, that of the Presbyterian Church, bears the name of a Baptist, who, in 1828, by the gift of $3,000 or more, laid a foundation for its endowment. Lane Seminary was so named in grateful appreciation of the gift of Ebenezer Lane, a Baptist of New Orleans, who, as late as 1849, was still living at Oxford, Oh. It is a notable fact that its charter does not designate it as a denominational institution, but declares that it shall be a school devoted to the preparation of young men for the Christian Ministry. The data for the foregoing account were obtained chiefly from the printed records of the above-named Education Society, supplemented by the personal recollections of the writer and others.
Another history of Fairmount here.
[From 100th Anniversary Edition of the Miami Baptist Association Minutes 1898, pp. 55-57. Document from the Miami Baptist Association Office, Cincinnati. - Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Ohio Baptist History
Baptist History Homepage