At Temple, some old-time religions

While Temple was chartered as a college separate from the Grace Baptist Church, the church always had a close relationship with the school through Russell H. Conwell, the church’s pastor, school’s founder and president.

It’s unclear when the Grace Baptist Church lost ties to Temple, but records in the special collections department of Paley Library show that at least in the school’s beginning, the church influenced and financially provided for the developing college that today ranks as the 28th largest university in the country.

1879: Russell H. Conwell became pastor of the Grace Baptist Church at Broad and Marvine streets in North Philadelphia.

1884: Conwell received a letter from 20-year-old Charles Davies requesting his instruction in Greek and Latin. Davies aspired to become a minister but didn’t have the time or money to attend theology school. As the story goes, when Conwell arrived to teach Davies his first lessons, the young man was with six friends who also desired instruction. Known as “the seven,” these young men were taught by Conwell at night. The students were later dubbed “night owls.”

May 12, 1888: Chartered as Temple College. Grace Baptist Church allowed the college to use vestry rooms and the pastor’s study in the church’s building on Broad and Marvine streets (where Gladfelter Hall stands today) for classrooms from 1884 to 1888. The church was called the “temple,” so the school became known as “Temple College.”

Fall 1888: 228 students enrolled for the college’s first official term. The first formal classes were held at the Wiatt Society House at 1911 N. Marvine St., a rowhouse adjoined to the Grace Baptist Church.

1889: Church council met with 32 representatives from area churches to discuss the future and direction of college. They decided that Temple College will be “For ministers, lawyers, physicians, professors, engineers, missionaries, writers, public speakers and higher ranks of business life. No sectarian line whatever will be drawn. Any young person fitted to enter and anyone desiring to be of higher and nobler use to their fellow-men, will be admitted if there is room,” according to church records published in the second edition of the book Temple College: What Is It?

Dec. 26, 1889: The church location at Broad and Marvine streets was sold to Philadelphia Church of the Disciples for $30,000. The church used money obtained by its sale to build Temple College its own facilities next to the church’s new temple to be built on Broad and Berks streets. In return for its donation to the school, the church obtained stock of the college.

March 27, 1889: Ground was broken for a new temple at Broad and Berks streets, building costs were $109,000.

1891: The new 4,000 person occupancy temple of the Grace Baptist Church opened on Broad and Berks streets.

Spring 1891: Bachelor of divinity is first official degree granted.

1892: Charles Davies, member of the original seven taught by Conwell and the college’s first dean, died of tuberculosis.

1893: Temple College facilities built adjoining Baptist Temple at Broad and Berks streets.

1907: Chartered as Temple University.

1911: Received first state funding.

1925: Conwell died after 37 years of presidency and is succeeded by Charles E. Beury.

February 1960: The Temple School of Theology became the Conwell School of Theology. While it is chartered separately from Temple , the school continued to use its building on campus (Thomas Theological Hall at Norris Street and North Park Avenue) and students were allowed to use university housing, dining and recreation services. Billy Graham became vice-chairman on the Conwell School of Theology’s board of trustees.

1960: New department of religion replaced Temple School of Theology. Temple is one of the first three state universities to establish a religion department in the country.

1970: The Conwell School of Theology left the Temple campus to combine with the Gordon School of Theology in South Hamilton, Mass. and became Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

1965: Temple University officially became a state-related institution in the Commonwealth System of Higher Education.

1984: Baptist Temple at Broad and Berks declared an official historic building.

2005: $29 million renovation project of Baptist Temple completed. The church will be used for university performance, meeting and lecture space.

Sammy Davis can be reached at s.davis@temple.edu.

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