The 1920 and 30s emerged as one of the most turbulent periods in American history. Many businesses were undergoing a transformation in response to the Great Depression and the execution of many new government-sponsored public works projects. YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly was no exception.
In 1932 the Blue Ridge property was put up for public sale as a result of a decrease in conference attendance and the failure of local banks. Weatherford was able to raise enough money to save the Assembly but it was legally necessary to reorganize under the name of “Blue Ridge College, Inc.” That following year in1933 a new 21-member governing board of trustees met to discuss the future of the Assembly.
Coincidentally during that same time a group of professors and students from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida were in search of a place to start their dream: a new liberal arts college built around the foundations of community, self-expression and intellectual freedom. The group of non-conformists was led by John Rice, Classics professor at Rollins College who was frustrated by the rigid educational models of the time. His colleague, Bob Wunsch, was a native of Asheville and familiar with Blue Ridge Assembly. Wunsch recommended the site to Rice who visited the property in the spring of 1933 and immediately fell in love with the mountain setting, just as Dr. Weatherford had done 27 years earlier.
The Blue Ridge property was a self-contained ready-made campus, complete with dormitory space, dining hall, gymnasium, library, auditorium, and even a maintenance garage.
“Perfect. Here was peace. Here was also central heating against the cold of winter, blankets, sheets, dishes, flatware, enough for a dozen colleges, all at a moderate rental”, Rice wrote enthusiastically.
Most of all, the rural and pristine environment of Blue Ridge would foster a sense of creative inspiration that was the foundation of the school’s mission.
Rice and his team spent the summer raising funds for the school. In August a lease was signed with the Assembly for $4500 a year, funding which helped to lift Blue Ridge out of from financial hardship and temporally secure year-round operation. The primary stipulation was that that the college personnel and equipment would have to vacate all buildings each spring to make room for the Assembly’s regular summer YMCA conferences.
Black Mountain College opened their campus in September of 1933 with ten teachers and twenty-two students. Little did they know at the time, it was history in the making and Blue Ridge would be a part of it.
Coming soon… Black Mountain College: Campus Life (Part 2 of 3)