Old Main, 135 Years at the Heart of Geneva College - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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June 27, 2016

Old Main, 135 Years at the Heart of Geneva College

“Old Main” is a common moniker for the original building on college and university campuses across the country. Usually, it is beloved by students, alumni, and faculty as it is the familiar focal point of campus; it often has a bell tower. There is always some interesting history behind the building, and Geneva College’s Old Main is no exception. This spring marks 135 years that Old Main has stood at the center of Geneva College’s campus in Beaver Falls, PA. The building was completed in 1881, just a few months after Geneva made the move to Beaver Falls.

Geneva College first opened its doors on April 20, 1848 in Northwood, OH. The college remained in Northwood for over 30 years, closing briefly for a few years at the onset of the Civil War. However, increasing enrollment numbers in the late 1870s forced President Henry Hosick George to begin searching for a way to expand the college. Word of Geneva’s search got out, and areas that were interested in being the college’s new home began to contact President George. The location offers that were considered in 1879 included offers from Bellefonte, Ohio and Morning Sun, Iowa, and Beaver Falls, PA. The offer from Beaver Falls came with a promise of land donated by the Harmony Society and $20,000 for the construction of a new college building. The decision to move to the then rather small Pennsylvania community was finalized in July 1879.[1]

There were several challenges encountered in the first year of the move to Beaver Falls, many of which had to do with the building. Construction was taking much longer than expected and the cost nearly doubled from what was initially estimated. The secretary of the committee overseeing the move is reported to have said, “We are free to say that such an undertaking would not have been entered upon if we had been able to see the end from the beginning.”[2] Despite the roadblocks, classes began in Beaver Falls on September 15, 1880 in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaver Falls. This original building still stands at 900 7th Ave. in Beaver Falls and is currently home to the Holy Spirit Fellowship Church. From those very first days, it was clear that Geneva belonged in Beaver Falls. The editor of The Cabinet, Geneva’s student newspaper, wrote these words following that first day of classes:

“As school adjourned for that day, both Professors and students felt a spirit that they never before so manifested. They seemed to realize that the College had at last found its place. Each one went to his work as if he thought the whole success of the College depended on him.”[3]

The following spring, the new building was finished and Geneva College could officially call Beaver Falls its home. Since 1881, many alterations have been made to the building, including a new roof and a remodeled chapel following a tornado in 1914. This tornado, which took the then gold-colored shingles off of the building, is the source for the name of Geneva’s mascot, the Golden Tornado.[4] Despite the new roof and a few other internal and cosmetic changes, the Old Main that stands at the heart of Geneva’s campus today looks almost exactly as it did when it was first completed 135 years ago.

The building which once housed the entire college is still home to the administrative offices as well as the departments of Biblical Studies, Ministry, Philosophy, Sociology, and Higher Education, as well as John H. White Chapel. The building stands as a testament to the perseverance of President H. H. George and the rest of the faculty, trustees and church leaders who worked to bring Geneva College to Beaver Falls. Next time you are on campus, whether you are a visitor or a student who calls Geneva home, please stop and take a moment to appreciate Old Main and the history it represents. It has stood the test of time and has been with the college through both good times and bad, and will hopefully continue to do so for generations to come.

By Cameron Grosh (’17)

[1] David M. Carson, Pro Christo Et Patria: A History of Geneva College, (Virginia Beach, VA: Donning, 1997), 19-21.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Ibid., 21.

[4] The Geneva College Archives

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