As some of you may know, every time we go and visit a place on our list, we usually leave with 2-3 new places we now have to go and see. Through our travels, we have met a lot of great people and it is because of these people that we have been able to travel across the State of New York exploring places we originally had never heard of. Somewhat of a new phenomenon for us though, is that at this point in our blog adventures, we have actually been sought out and invited to go on tours of places of worship. This is kind of weird for us because we never thought we would be in a position where someone liked what we were doing enough that they thought their place of worship could benefit from exposure on our blog. But at the time of this writing, it has even happened to us more than once! It was at the beginning of this past July that we received a comment on a random thread on our blog from a Ms. Melissa Morral, who simply asked, “Have you considered including Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School on your tour? I’d be happy to give you a tour.” Chris and I were very surprised at this and also very flattered, but because we usually book tours weeks in advance, it took us until now to actually go.
For those of you that don’t know, the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School is located at 1100 South Goodman St.; across the street from Highland Park and is that big castle-like building at the top of a hill above a gated, sprawling, lush landscape. The Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School is quite lengthy name and this is due to its many mergers with other institutions (which we will explain at length shortly), but we learned that the insider term for the place is CRCDS. Chris and I arrived separately for our tour and I found Chris already at the rendezvous location with Melissa. I also quickly learned that when Chris got there, he started to walk around the grounds by himself and was yelled at by security for nearly going somewhere he was not allowed to go (for shame!). We met Melissa inside Strong Hall which is the main building of the campus and started our tour.
CRCDS today is considered a theological college, but it is certainly not wrong to call it a seminary as well. Like most seminaries across the United States, CRCDS has struggled with enrollment since less and less people are entering the seminary. Because of this, CRCDS has had to get creative as to how to best utilize the buildings on their campus in order to help keep the college a viable place of religious education. Melissa explained to us that where we were standing in Strong Hall is actually considered the basement of the building (which actually makes sense due to the grade of the yard on the other side of the building), and that today the basement is actually considered a satellite location for Ithaca College. Melissa explained further that the general structure of the basement is original to the building, but that because it is Ithaca College, most of the doors were locked and that our tour really started on the next floor.
As we made our way up to the next floor, which is technically the first floor, we stopped at a little landing where there is an original plaque hanging from the wall that kind of explains some of the history of the place. Also on this landing is a bust of Augustus Hopkins Strong, the second President of the Rochester Theological Seminary and a table full of information about CRCDS. The three of us had to stop here because Melissa needed to explain to us some history before we went any further and it became even more confusing. Way back in the day, in 1817, what would become known as Colgate University was founded by the Baptist Education Society of the State of New York, in the Village of Hamilton, NY, in order to provide educated clergy for the churches of early 19th century America. The College grew and went through some name changes, but by the year 1850, several members of the Baptist Education Society decided they wanted to be closer to a more urban setting. The College however began legal proceedings to prevent this from happening, but a few dissenting members decided to move anyways and relocated to Rochester, New York. Upon settling in their new home of Rochester, NY, these rogue members made up of former Colgate faculty and students, founded the University of Rochester, and by extension the Rochester Theological Seminary. So now there were actually two separate entities, the Colgate Theological Seminary in Hamilton, NY and the Rochester Theological Seminary in Rochester, NY. Fast forward 78 years to 1928; the existing seminary at Colgate decided to merge with their theological cousins in Rochester, thereby creating the new Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and also making Colgate University non-denominational. Thanks to funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a prominent Baptist layman, the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School built a new campus in 1932 (its current location), which was actually originally located in the Town of Brighton. However, the lines of the city limit were eventually changed in order to accommodate the desire of the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School to be in the City of Rochester, which is why today one side of Highland Avenue is Rochester and the other side is Brighton.
Melissa then walked us down the main hallway of Strong Hall which is really where most of the academic learning at the College takes place. Melissa shared with us that there are two dormitory buildings on the campus, but due to a decrease in enrollment, CRCDS has been able to partner with the Veterans Outreach Center of Rochester and use one of these buildings as a transitional living house for formally homeless veterans. I was quite surprised to hear this, mainly because to me, this seemed like a fairly progressive thing for a religious institution to be involved with. I expressed this surprise to Melissa and in response, Melissa smiled and then took us into a specific classroom where the conversation continued. While in this classroom, Melissa explained to us, as she referenced specific pictures hanging on the wall, that in 1961 the Baptist Missionary Training School (BMTS), a women’s school originally from Chicago, joined the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York. While there was no name change to reflect this, ever since, CRCDS has actively been educating and training women to eventually serve in their own right. Melissa explained further that CRCDS has made it a mission of the College to become actively involved in social justice, specifically for the downtrodden and those populations considered disenfranchised, which helped explain the College’s willingness to house homeless veterans. Melissa finished up sharing with us the history of women’s education at CRCDS, but the conversation of social justice continued as we left the classroom and walked down the hallway towards the schools’ chapel.
Before we got to the chapel though, Melissa stopped us in front of a little display built into the wall. In this display was an original photograph of a very young Martin Luther King, Jr., along with several framed documents, a very large cross and a bible. Melissa then explained that in 1970, the Crozer Theological Seminary merged with the Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, and it was here that the current name came into being: The Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. The Crozer Theological Seminary was originally founded in 1867 in Chester, Pennsylvania, and it is here in Pennsylvania that Martin Luther King, Jr. graduated in 1951 with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. While the actual building Martin Luther King, Jr. attended still stands and is used as medical offices today, the Crozer Theological Seminary today exists in Rochester, NY, so it is fair to say that the Alma Mater of Martin Luther King, Jr. is right here in Rochester, NY! Chris and I thought this was definitely a super-cool fact to point out and while not the only reason, the merger with Crozer also helped push CRCDS to take a larger, more active role in social justice as well.
At the end of the main hallway we walked down a small flight of stairs, through a student lounge-type room where the entrance to the College’s library is, down a smaller hallway and into the Samuel Colgate Memorial Chapel. Here, Melissa shared with us just who exactly Samuel Colgate was and that the Chapel was actually in addition, built a few years after the main building. Samuel Colgate is the son of William Colgate and it is William who founded the Colgate toothpaste company, while Samuel was known as a soap maker and eventually their company became known as the Colgate-Palmolive Company. Besides making soap, Samuel Colgate was a well-known philanthropist and served 30 years as a trustee of Colgate University, where he gave very large sums of money and eventually had the College named after him. Samuel Colgate also served for some time as the president of the New York Baptist Education Society and also as president of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. We then walked in to the Chapel, which is essentially from the back and directly in front of us, were quickly confronted with an enormous organ. Since it is a chapel, the main sanctuary is on the smaller side, with a central aisle down the middle with pews on both sides facing the main altar and rose window. On each wall of the chapel are three stained glass windows with varying designs. The main altar is a very ornately carved wood relief of the Last Supper. From the main altar looking towards the back wall where we entered, are four large stained glass windows with depiction of men who are instrumental in the establishment and growth of CRCDS. One of these men depicted in glass is the College’s most famous faculty member Walter Rauschenbusch who is the founder of the Social Gospel Movement, which in essence was the Protestant Church’s attempt at taking a role in social justice as a result of the mass immigration and urbanization taking place in America during the late 1800s.
I’m not exactly sure how it came up, but while we were in the Chapel, Melissa non-chalantly made reference to when the “occupation of the College” happened. Chris and I stopped dead in our tracks and asked Melissa just what she meant by “occupation.” Melissa acknowledged that she was not aware of the entire history surrounding the event, but that in 1969, the College had been occupied by its African-American ministry students. What is telling about the timing of this event is that it is actually before the merger with Crozer Theological Seminary, which definitely implies that the College was involved in social justice activities on behalf of African-Americans, even before it merged with a predominantly African-American college. Unfortunately, we were unable to learn anything else about this significantly historical time not only for CRCDS but the City of Rochester, NY as well. (Later when I got home I exhaustively scoured the internet trying to learn more about this event and did find an article written by a former journalist for Gannett Newspaper who was intimately involved in the occupation [found here]. However, the article written by the former journalist is not descriptive at all about what led up to the occupation, what it was about or how it came to an end. I guess the only way to learn more about this piece of history is to go start the exhaustive process of looking at micro film).
From the Chapel we walked back out the way we came, with Melissa saying she wanted to show us the library. As we walked through the hallway, Chris and I noticed something we had not taken notice of before. Embedded into the floor is a large, bronze medallion showing the signs of the Zodiac. Of course we had to stop and point out to Melissa the oddity of a historically pagan symbol being in such a non-pagan establishment. Melissa laughed and admitted she was unaware of the medallions origins, but that CRCDS is very open to all sorts of different denominations, albeit most of them are Protestant in nature such as Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, but that there are Spiritualists, Buddhists and even Catholic students that have attended the College before.
As Melissa showed us around the library, we began to realize we were beginning to wind down on our tour so we began to ask questions about some of the other buildings on the grounds. Melissa told us that the closest building to Strong Hall on the grounds is currently being utilized by the American Cancer Society, she told us to remember that the President’s House is actively lived in and to try and remember how we would feel if someone was walking around the outside of our houses and she said to keep our eyes open for some of the weird letters on some of the bricks that make up the exterior of Strong Hall, with some letters being Greek and others being in Hebrew. Chris and I eventually said our goodbyes to Melissa and thanked her for inviting us and her hospitality.
We then went outside and were given permission to walk the grounds on our own. The grounds of CRCDS consist of five different buildings and greenery that is meticulously manicured and very beautiful. After walking down the hill towards Highland Avenue and then back up again, I was pretty out of breath and truly felt bad for whoever the landscaper of the place is. However, I can also totally see the allure of this place as a wedding location, since it is a mix of gothic architecture with picturesque landscapes, making it a source of endless photo-ops. As we left though, we realized that not only is the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School a picture perfect place to get married in, it is an integral piece of Rochester history that has directly or indirectly played a role in the Second Great Awakening, the Social Gospel Movement, the Women Right’s Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. To be honest, Chris and I may never have even inquired about taking a tour of CRCDS, but we are definitely grateful that Melissa Morral reached out to us to share this very valuable piece of Rochester history so that we can share it all with you.