Tale of Two Colleges: Philomath College and the College of Philomath

In the small town of Philomath, Oregon, not one, but two colleges operated between 1889 and 1913. Philomath College, built in 1867, now houses the Benton County Historical Society and Museum. In 1889, a second college, named the College of Philomath, opened and operated for 23 years, with a 3-year recess from 1906 to 1909.

College of Philomath: Radicals Form Own School

The schism of 1889 divided the local congregation and Philomath College itself. Liberals favored abolishing the no secret society membership rule. Radicals upheld the church.

A large radical faction split from liberal Philomath College and established the College of Philomath just a few blocks away. From 1889 to 1906 and 1909 to 1913, two colleges existed side by side in Philomath.

Philomath College

Philomath College Building

This may be the first picture ever taken of Philomath College, built in 1867. A schism in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, founders of the school, caused a faction to leave the church and establish the College of Philomath a few blocks away.

A Church Divided

The Church of the United Brethren in Christ operated Philomath College.

There was a schism, or split, in the beliefs of church members that grew at the annual conferences between 1869 and 1889. A church rule that no member could also be a member of a secret society caused the discord.

Two factions, the radicals and the liberals, arose.

Philomath College: Pioneers Establish a School

In January 1852, the United Brethren Church sent Thomas Jefferson Connor on a mission to Oregon. In 1853, members of the United Brethren Church crossed the plains under the leadership of Reverend T.J. Connor. This group of families settled in Benton County, Oregon. Reverend Connor organized the first United Brethren Church in Benton County at the Union schoolhouse in Plymouth, south of present-day Philomath. In the 1860s, Union was the only school in the region. Local residents wanted to build another school, more centrally located.

Connor helped establish Philomath College in Benton County, Oregon.

Oregon Pioneer, T.J. Connor

T.J. Connor

College of Philomath

College of Philomath Building

The first College of Philomath building, constructed in 1890, was also known as Keezel Memorial Chapel. It was destroyed by fire in February 1893. The chapel was immediately rebuilt.

In 1905, another fire destroyed the College of Philomath. Bishop Barkley supervised fundraising and construction of a new building, which opened in 1909. The building was called Barkley Hall.

Barkley Hall

College of Philomath, Barkley Hall

This was the third building, constructed in 1909, for the College of Philomath, the first two buildings having been destroyed by fire.

Students at College of Philomath

Students at College of Philomath

The College of Philomath closed for good in 1913.

Philomath College and the City of Philomath

Philomath College, Oregon

Philomath College before 1900

Philomath College walk

View of "College Walk," early 1900s

Project Realized: College and Town Develop at the Same Time

In February 1865, members of the United Brethren Church formed a committee to build a school. The committee collected $2,510 to purchase a half-section of land from the Henderson donation land claim for a site. The committee reserved 8 acres of land for a campus and divided the remaining property into lots to sell to develop a town around the school.

The school was chartered under the name "Philomath College" in 1865. Philomath comes from the Greek language, meaning "lover of learning."

Construction and Expansion

The students helped to build the college. Workers laid a stone foundation and built a brick kiln on site in the fall of 1865 to begin construction of Philomath College. The building was completed in 1867 and the first classes were offered in October.

As the program grew, the college expanded. In 1902 and 1903, students built a gymnasium. In 1904, a wing was added on the west side of the College building. Another wing was started in 1906. Sidewalks, city water, and electricity modernized the campus in 1909.

Town of Philomath Develops

Philomath founders sought to protect the students' morals. The town of Philomath developed around the college. Founders established restrictions in the town charter to protect the students: no grog shops, gambling saloons, or theaters were allowed in Philomath. The students were expected to lead exemplary lives.

Philomath College Closes during the Great Depression

Philomath College continued to function until 1929, when lack of enrollment due to economic depression and poor financial management forced the school to close its doors. During its 62 years of operation, the institution enrolled about 6,000 students, 1,200 of whom became teachers.

After the college closed, the building was used as a church. In the 1960s, the building had fallen into disrepair. The fate of the structure was in question until local citizens saved the building in the late 1970s, and placed it on the National Register of Historic Places. The Benton County Historical Society acquired the property and opened the Benton County Historical Museum in 1980.

Philomath College, Keezel Postcard

The first addition to Philomath College was the west wing.

College Interior

Church services were held on the second floor in the auditorium.

Philomath College Buildings

Philomath College, early 1920s.

Philomath College gymnasium building

   View of the college gymnasium.


Benton County Historical Society Museum

Benton County Historical Society Museum

The fate of the Philomath College building was in question until a group of concerned Philomath citizens raised money to renovate the building.

Panoramic photo of Philomath Oregon from Bennett Hill

   ​A panorama of Philomath, circa 1900.