Skip to main content

History of PC

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, ¬Ěmostly crude dirt strips paved with sapling trees. Under the direction of a Methodist minister, the Rev. Charles C. Spence, a youthful band of entrepreneurs 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.
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. 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. 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 the twentieth 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. Piedmont 1968 rare video footage.

A Bright Future

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, such as the Mize Athletic Center, complete with a 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.
Today, 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. The College's core curriculum covers nearly half of the total credits required for a degree, which ensures that all students gain a broad competence in the liberal arts, regardless of their field of specialization. Piedmont College is a classic, independent, church-related, liberal arts institution.