The Baptist populations residing in the western states in the 1830s
and 1840s were hampered by a lack of well-trained ministers to spread
the faith. In 1833, the western Baptists gathered at Cincinnati for
a convention. At this meeting, discussions turned toward the establishment
of a seminary to train future ministers. The delegates approved the
idea and a committee was formed to work out the details.
committee spent much of the winter of 1834 and 1835 scouting the Cincinnati
area for suitable land. At this time, Cincinnati was centrally located
in the western states and offered good transportation facilities. The
committee eventually decided on a site just south of the City of Covington,
Kentucky. The Covington site had several advantages. The site was located
near Cincinnati but was located in Kentucky. In this way, the committee
felt that the institution would have the support of the Kentucky and
other southern Baptists. In addition, the property was cheaper that
property on the northern side of the Ohio River. In 1835, the committee
purchased nearly 350 acres of ground (This property had originally been
part of the Riddle Farm, the Kyle farm and the Richard Southgate Farm).
The purchase of property, however, did not result in the immediate opening
of a seminary. In 1840, the Baptists received a charter from the Commonwealth
of Kentucky to establish the institute. The charter also called for
a board of directors which consisted of the following: Henry Wingate
and Cave Johnson of Kentucky; Ephraim Robins, S.W. Lynd, John Stevens
and Thatcher Lewis of Ohio and J.L. Holman of Indiana.
The board of trustees chose 12 acres on the highest point of the property
for the campus of the institute. This property was roughly bounded by
Madison, Russell, 11th and Robbins Streets. The plan was to eventually
sell the remainder of the property and to use these profits to build
permanent buildings and to establish endowments for professor salaries.
Between 1839 and 1841 over 23 acres of property were sold at auction.
These sales amounted to $29,000. By 1843, over 150 buildings had been
built in the neighborhood. The trustees also approved the construction
of a 22-acre cemetery on the institute’s property. This cemetery
evolved into Linden Grove Cemetery.
There were three buildings that constituted the Western Baptist Theological
Institute. The largest structure was the classroom and dormitory building.
This building stood four stories tall, was 120’ long and 46’
wide. The first floor contained classrooms and a chapel. The top three
floors contained dormitory rooms for the students. The cornerstone of
the building was set into place on August 3, 1840. The trustees spent
$20,000 to construct this building. These funds were acquired by the
sale of lots to the public. The two other buildings used by the institute
were already on the site when the property was purchased. One of these
homes belonged to Alfred Sanford (son of General James Sanford). Following
the purchase, the Sanford home was remodeled for use as a president’s
residence (this house still stands at 1026 Russell). The other home
was remodeled for use as a faculty residence.
The completion of the main building, however, did not result in the
opening of classes. The trustees took things slow and continued to raise
money by selling plots of ground. By 1842, nearly 100 homes had been
built in the neighborhood with many lots still available.
Finally, in September 1845, the first classes at the Western Baptist
Theological Institute were officially inaugurated. The institute offered
a two-year program in Theology and a classical program for those who
were not yet ready for college level work. The Theology program offered
classes in Biblical criticism and interpretation, Ecclesiastical history,
pastoral Theology and church organization and homiletics and pulpit
eloquence. During the first three years of the institute’s existence,
enrollment averaged about fifty, with eleven of these being Theology
students. Most of these students were from northern states.
The first president of the institute was the Reverend R.E. Patterson
of Boston. Prior his employment in Covington, Patterson was a tutor
at Columbia College in Washington D.C. and a professor of mathematics
at Waterville College in Maine. Patterson had also worked as a pastor
in Salem, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island. Other faculty
members were Ebenezer Dodge and Asa Drury. Asa Drury became responsible
for the operation of the classical program. This program accepted students
regardless of whether they intended to study for the ministry. The program
was designed to prepare young men for college work.
Despite an excellent start, the Western Baptist Theological Institute
proved very fragile. The institute was established to serve western
Baptist, both those from the north and the south. The issue of slavery,
however, divided the western Baptists from the very founding. Reverend
Patterson, the institute’s president, also served on the National
Board of Foreign Missions. This board published a number of articles
indicating that slavery should not be tolerated in the Baptist faith.
This association between Patterson and abolitionism caused much concern
among the institutes southern trustees and students. On May 8, 1845,
Baptists delegates from the southern states met in Augusta, Georgia
and formally established the Southern Baptist Convention. This split
would have grave consequences for the Western Baptist Theological Institute.
Several southern members of the board of trustees asked Dr. Patterson
to publicly state his opinions on abolitionism. He refused to do so.
Instead, Patterson left Covington and was replaced by Dr. S.W. Lynd.
In 1848, a southern member of the board introduced a resolution that
spoke of slavery as divinely inspired. The resolution was defeated.
The four southern board members who voted for the resolution were undaunted.
These members, without consent of the rest of the board, lobbied for
the passage of a bill at the Kentucky General Assembly in Frankfort.
The bill called for the appointment of 16 new members to the Board of
the Western Baptist Theological Institute. In addition, all future trustees
were required to be Kentucky citizens. The bill became law.
The northern members of the board were stunned by this obvious attempt
to take control of the institute. They were particularly angry, because
most of the funds that had donated to the institute were donated by
northerners and because most of the students were from the north. The
northern members of the board fought to strike down the new law. Eventually,
the Kenton Court of Appeals declared the law null and void.
The abolitionist controversy and the split between factions on the board
took its toll on the institute. Donations plummeted along with the student
enrollment. In 1855, the board decided to close the Western Baptist
Theological Institute. Both factions agreed to a sale of all the property,
with the proceeds being divided equally.
In August 1855, the Main building of the institute was sold to W. Scott.
Mr. Scott operated a small female college and preparatory school in
the building for several years. During the Civil War, the hospital was
utilized as a convalescent hospital for wounded Union soldiers. In 1867,
the building was purchased by the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis.
The sisters relocated their St. Elizabeth Hospital to the site. St.
Elizabeth Hospital occupied the building until 1914 when the current
hospital was completed. In 1916, the main building of the Western Baptist
Theological Institute was razed and Wadsworth Electric Company was built
on the site.
Ware, Orie S., “Western Baptist Theological Institute,”
In the Papers of the Christopher Gist Historical Society, Vol. I, p.
43-49; James, W.C., “A History of the Western Baptist Theological
Institute,” In the Collection of the KCPL; Licking Valley Register,
May 25, 1842, p. 3, June 4, 1842, p. 3, May 31, 1845, August 23, 1845,
p. 1; Covington Journal, August 24, 1849, p. 3, November 22, 1851, p.
2, August 12, 1854, p. 2; Kentucky Post, November 24, 1916, p. 1.