History of Piedmont College

Piedmont's Founding

In 1897, opening a college in the wilderness of northeast Georgia must have seemed to some like a prescription for failure. The area was accessible by few roads—mostly crude dirt strips paved with sapling trees. A narrow-gauge railroad did make a waterstop in the frontier town of Demorest, but it was laden with passengers and freight bound for points further north.

For a youthful band of entrepreneurs trying to forge a community of businesses, factories and schools in Demorest, however, a college was just what they needed. Under the direction of a Methodist minister, the Rev. Charles C. Spence, they obtained a charter from the State of Georgia, organized a board of trustees, bought books, hired a faculty, and secured space for classes and dormitories. On the first Wednesday of September 1897, amid much fanfare and ceremony, the opening exercises for the J.S. Green Collegiate Institute were held in downtown Demorest, and the entire student body, from first grade to college juniors, marched up the hill from the square to begin their studies.

Piedmont Original BuildingWhat the detractors of the time failed to take into account was the thirst for knowledge that a small town like Demorest could harbor. As one early observer noted, the "students came in for miles around, some of them walking barefoot .... They came from the high ridges and hidden coves; they came from the little corn patches, the log cabins and the moonshine stills."

In its first year, the J.S. Green Collegiate Institute (the name was changed to Piedmont College in 1903), enrolled 367 students, an astonishing number given the rural nature of the area and the scant population. Parents in some cases sacrificed their meager possessions to make certain that their children could attend. One mother reportedly sold her cookstove, choosing to labor over an open fire, rather than have her son miss his chance at an education.

Today, more than 100 years later, the students of Piedmont College arrive from all over the world, still carrying that same unquenchable thirst for education. Some are third, even fourth generation Piedmont students. Some are the first in their families to venture beyond high school. But all of them find at Piedmont College an experience much like that of the students who paraded up the hill in 1897 - a small college town where the faculty and students form a community with a rich academic tradition - where anyone with a desire for knowledge is welcome.

Growth of Piedmont

By 1899, Piedmont was beset by financial difficulties. Enrollment was strong at just under 400 students, but the support the College founders had hoped for from the state's Methodist churches was not forthcoming. Strapped for funds after cashing in his own life insurance policy to support the College, Rev. Spence turned to the Congregationalist churches for help. "I have gone as far as I can," Spence told a church representative. "I am getting deeper and deeper in debt. You Congregationalists need a college. Here is a good beginning."

The Congregational Church had been founded by the Pilgrims in 1620 and already had a long history of supporting higher education. They had founded Harvard in 1636, Yale in 1701, and numerous other colleges across the U.S. As yet they had no college in the South, and so in 1901, the American Missionary Board of the Congregational Church took Piedmont under its wing. While remaining an independent institution governed by its own board of trustees, Piedmont has enjoyed a close relationship with Congregational churches ever since. Students from across the U.S. and around the world who might otherwise never hear of Piedmont College are introduced through the churches, and this association has historically provided the College with a rich mix of students from many cultures and backgrounds.

As Piedmont grew in the early part of this century, it began building a reputation as "the little college that could." Through two World Wars, the Depression and the turbulent 1960s, the College remained an oasis of learning. Whenever financial difficulties developed, the administration, faculty, students, alumni and friends who had grown up with the College were always there to step in to save the day. With their faithful and often extraordinary sacrifices, the campus slowly grew from a cluster of former homes to the beautiful 100-acre site that houses the College today.

Because of its small size, Piedmont College through most of its existence also has developed a "David and Goliath" outlook on just about all matters academic and athletic. Athletic teams, noted nationally in the 1960s for their proclivity to lose, were nonetheless respected for the character of their coaches and players. And even with a faculty that could be numbered in the teens, Piedmont over the years produced more than its share of leaders in government, education, business and the arts.

Today, Piedmont College is a classic, independent, church-related, liberal arts institution. With a substantial endowment, Piedmont is able to provide a high-quality education while maintaining tuition that is among the lowest of all private colleges in the state.

Piedmont's commitment to the liberal arts has not changed either. The College's core curriculum covers nearly half of the total credits required for a degree. This ensures that all students gain a broad competence in the liberal arts, regardless of their field of specialization.

Piedmont offers bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees in 44 areas and in 1999 began accepting students in the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. The School of Nursing is nationally accredited and provides a community-based curriculum with a focus on health promotion. The College is also accredited to award Master of Arts degrees in education and business, as well as Specialist and Doctoral degrees in education.

Piedmont has an excellent teacher preparation program, with extensive training available in early childhood, middle-grades, secondary and special education. The small class size and the cohesiveness of the Piedmont community help students to develop their full potential and to acquire the skills needed for successful, professional careers.

Piedmont College is becoming more national and international in scope. Currently, more than 20 states and 10 foreign countries are represented at Piedmont. These students bring a diversity of backgrounds and beliefs to the campus, and their presence allows all students to develop an appreciation and understanding of other cultures.

Piedmont has residence halls available for men and women. Student life is enhanced with a variety of activities, including intercollegiate sports in men's and women's basketball, cross country, golf, tennis, lacrosse, and soccer; men's baseball; and women's softball and volleyball. There are active intramural teams in a variety of sports, and the College's fitness center features modern equipment and professional instruction.

Clubs and organizations on campus allow students to be involved in many areas of interest, from music and art to math and physics. Moreover, the College offers several enhancement programs, including Piedmont Scholars, Honors College and the Lyceum series. These programs enrich the lives of students by presenting many outstanding speakers and encouraging reflection in small discussion groups. Lyceum events include musical performances, plays and lectures for students and the surrounding community.

A Bright Future

From its modest beginnings in 1897, Piedmont grew steadily. In 1971, the College completed a building program and for the first time began to build a significant endowment. In recent years, the College has set its sights on larger dreams that are now coming true. In 1992, a new 38,000-square-foot, 100,000-volume library opened, signaling a new era in academic resources and support at Piedmont College. The library includes computerized indexes and databases, two computer labs, conference rooms and offices.

In 2000 and 2001, the college built Stewart Hall, a three-story math, science and technology center that houses state-of-the-art laboratories and analysis equipment. The college also opened the Mize Athletic Center with a new basketball and volleyball arena, fitness center and locker rooms. More recently, Piedmont completed a major renovation of the college chapel, which included the installation of a 3,675-pipe organ and construction of a wing to house additional classrooms and a recital hall. Five new residence halls have been added to house a total of about 500 students.

The Swanson Center for Performing Arts and Communications opened in October 2007, providing the Demorest campus with two theatre venues and classroom space for the mass communications department.

In the summer of 1996, Piedmont opened a campus in Athens, Ga., designed for students who want a small-college atmosphere but also want the amenities that a larger city like Athens can offer. Athens is a great academic and intellectual community, and our students are a part of that, while still having the benefit of small classes and more interaction with their professors. PC-Athens began with just 64 students and today has grown to about 800 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in day and evening classes.

The Athens campus offers undergraduate degrees in education, sociology, criminal justice, psychology, nursing, and business, as well as master of arts degrees in early childhood, secondary education, and special education E/BD. The Athens campus also offers the master of business administration (MBA) degree, as well as specialist and doctoral degrees in education.

Piedmont College is part of a global educational community made possible by the Internet and satellite telecommunications. Piedmont students may no longer arrive on campus to barter cows for an education, but they arrive just as ready to learn, just as thirsty for knowledge as their predecessors did some 115 years ago.