New Beginnings at Mossy Creek: A Sesquicentennial
by David Needs
The ravages of the Civil War were not kind to Mossy Creek Baptist College. "The Baptist college" (as called by those who knew it best) closed its doors in 1862 as its students melted away to serve both the Union and the Confederacy. As the tide of war ebbed and flowed, the three buildings of the College were used to house troops and horses from both sides. Anything that could be burned was used to keep the troops warm. Economic hardship had cast a dark shadow over East Tennessee since most families were stripped of all their food as large armies foraged and plundered Mossy Creek and the region. (The College sought reparations from the federal government after the war and would not receive payment for over 30 years.)
The College was deeply in debt to East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad President John Roper Branner for the cost of the land, and W.C. Newman, one of the College's founders, for cost of campus buildings. With almost no possibility of reopening even two years after the war, local newspapers began to advertise that the property would be sold at auction. Branner, in an attempt to secure some sort of payment, bought the College at auction.
Out of the darkness of war and debt, and with a new spirit of commitment to education, many in the area saw that reopening the College's doors as a recommitment to both the educational and spiritual mission of the College. With new trustees, the land was repurchased from Branner and a determination to eliminate the debt arose. With just two professors, Dr. Jesse Baker and R.R. Bryan, the school reopened in the fall of 1868. Baker, who doubled as the pastor of the homeless Mossy Creek Baptist Church, was named president of Mossy Creek Baptist College in 1869. In one year, in a stunning display of fortitude, Baker rode 3,500 miles on horseback to secure in pledges a complete erasure of the school's debt, while Bryan taught all of the classes. Within a few short years, many referred to the College as the model of education in the region.
Now 150 years since the reopening of the University's doors, so many owe a debt to the tireless commitment of a few determined souls who believed firmly in a continued mission of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.