The Wittenberg Board of Directors: 1853-1882

By Sam Troyer

Lot 3776 on the Plat of Wittenberg College is the site of a red brick residence at 525 N. Wittenberg Avenue. When the College owned the land, the lot was a wooded area and the Board of Directors elected to sell several lots in the 1880s in order to generate money for the College. The Board of Directors during this early period of Wittenberg’s history is vastly different from that of today. Today’s Board consists of 25 members constituted mainly of lay-people, but must have at least 6 clergy members. It began much smaller, with the original 1845 Board having only 14 members but, due to the growth of the school and the way in which Board members were selected, it quickly grew to a size much larger than that of the contemporary board with the 1881 Board boasting 36 members.

At this time the Board, as well as the school itself, was significantly more involved with the Lutheran Church. This is reflected in the nature of courses offered, the pious nature of the university’s presidents, and also in the way the Board of Directors was set up. Written in 1881, the W.H. Beers & Co. History of Clark County, Ohio provides significant insight into the early characteristics of the Board. From the outset it was decided that Directors may be elected by any Lutheran Synod in connection with the Evangelical Lutheran General Synod and that there be two directors for every ten clerical members of the Synod. This accounts for the rapid growth of the Board as the various Synods, once it was seen that Wittenberg was likely to survive and thrive, wanted a hand in shaping its direction. Additionally it was stipulated that at any one time at least half of the Board members must be laymen. Terms lasted four years and then members must be re-elected, there were however no term limits.[1]

The Board was, despite a common purpose in seeing Wittenberg succeed and being full of Lutherans, a diverse body of individuals. Theological differences divided the Board on the direction that they wanted to take the college. Pre-Millenialist views (belief that Jesus would physically return to earth and bring one thousand years of peace) would serve to ostracize George N.H. Peters from his peers and ultimately force him to retire. This time period also saw the tenure of Luther Alexander Gotwald who would be tried for heresy in 1893-4 and, after being unanimously acquitted even by his accusers, continued on at Wittenberg as a professor. Benjamin Prince was also a Director during this period and his impact was tremendous. He became the chairman of the Prudential Committee, which was in charge of budgeting and finance for the college, and was directly responsible for the sale of plot 3776, which became 525 N. Wittenberg.(List out the board members that you read about or at the very least those members on the Prudential Committee. This info should be earlier and the critical role of Benjamin Prince in selling the land for the College.)

In regards to 525 N. Wittenberg, for the longest time it was simply an unused portion of a large plot of land that the college owned. It was part of the woods just outside the Wittenberg gate which added to the secluded rustic feel of the college. Due to the turbulence that began to affect Wittenberg the closer it drew to the 20th century however, it would not remain untouched for long. In 1874, Dr. Sprecher resigned as President and although, as William A. Kinnison explains, “When Sprecher’s term as President ended, Wittenberg owned thirty-three acres of land and was free of debt”[2] it would prove to be a trying time for the College.

Wittenberg’s place in the world began to come into question. Economic recession, slipping support from Springfield, and Springfield’s attempts to bring other colleges to the town all made the new President, Helwig, and the Board decide that maybe it was time to move the college; this debate began with Helwig’s rise to the presidency in 1874 and was present until the end of his term in 1882. The search for a new place for Wittenberg consumed much of the Board’s time, often exchanging letters with community leaders in places such as Mansfield[3]. The Board needed not only somewhere that Wittenberg’s spirit could be upheld but also somewhere that would help Wittenberg pay to uphold it.

The general attitude of the Board was that if an agreement agreeable enough was found they were ready and willing to move the college as soon as possible. It is with this in mind that the Board listened to the report of the Prudential Committee on June 27, 1882.[4] Board minutes record that in this reportseveral suggestions were made to acquire funds for the college. One of these suggestions was the sale of the plot of land which contains 525 N. Wittenberg. As seen in the report of the Committee on the Report of the Prudential Committee[5], it was recommended that this suggestion be considered fully.

To the Board this seemed an eminently reasonable measure. If the College was to move anyway there would be no need to hold onto Springfield property. Therefore this action presented a way to demonstrate visibly the Board’s intent to the rest of the College and even to Springfield itself. Furthermore it would generate funds, which were ever in demand for the Board. The Prudential Committee put together an “Advertising Committee” to assess the plots and recommend the division and price for each. On August 29th 1882 in a meeting of the Prudential Committeethe efforts of the Advertising Committee are apparent as the plots, from 3772-3793 are apportioned and their prices fixed. .[6] Seen near the bottom of these minutes is a stipulation that a clause upholding Prohibition be added to the deeds for each of these lots. This clause is apparent in the deed which records the actual sale of the plot to Anna T. Chorpenning on the 19th of September 1882 and reads, “It is a condition of this deed that if the said Anna T. Chorpenning, or her heirs or assigns shall permit the manufacture, sale or traffic of intoxicating liquors on said premises then the same shall be forfeited, and the premises hereby conveyed shall revert to the grantor herein.”[7] Chorpenning’s husband was also a member of the Board, which likely accounts for the interest in the property which is so close to the University.



[1] W.H. Beers, History of Clark County, Ohio, (Chicago: 1881), 534-536.

[2] William A. Kinnison, Wittenberg: An American College, (Xlibris Corporation, 2008), 173.

[3] Link to transcription

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