Friday, December 25, 2009

25 December 1820 - The First Presbyterian Church Is Founded

On this day in 1820, the First Presbyterian Church of Athens, Georgia was founded with just 18 charter members. The church was organized by new University of Georgia President Reverend Moses Waddel. Rev. Waddel had come to UGA in 1819, at the age of 49, with a reputation as "one of the most influential and effective of southern educators." He also was a Presbyterian minister, and served as the new congregation's pastor until 1830.

When Rev. Waddel came to UGA, the school was not faring well. He was the fifth President in eight years. There was one faculty member to instruct the mere seven students enrolled, and the campus consisted of Old College, the President's House, and "a dilapidated building serving as a chapel." An effort to move the University from Athens to Milledgeville was afoot because "the rusticity of the local population did not provide the proper cultural context in which the institution might flower."

By all accounts, Rev. Waddel preferred the ministry to the politics of salvaging the University, but his time in office did restore the school. During his administration, student enrollment increased to over 100, and three major new buildings were constructed: New College (1823), Demosthenian Hall (1824), and Philosophical Hall (1821, now the Dean Rusk Center). Said the Senatus Academicus of the school in 1825, "We can confidently rely upon the annual overflowings of this Georgia Nile for the fertilization of our rising country."

Rev. Waddel resigned from UGA in 1829. He was succeeding in office by Alonzo Church, who served as University President for the next 30 years.

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