Eastern History: A history behind Eastern’s campus

By: Daniel Finegan

Waltonian | The Waltonian Source: Eastern.edu/ While Eastern’s campus has seen many additions, a lot of old features and buildings remain

Different people have very different stories about applying to college. For me, I knew almost from the beginning of my application process that I wanted to go to Eastern University. My time here so far has only reinforced my belief that I made the right decision. As I walked through my first few months of college, I also began to discover the rich and beautiful history of the college. 

Eastern began as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1925 in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. The board of trustees established a “Collegiate Department” seven years later to provide an undergraduate program for students who needed it. In 1938, it began offering a Bachelor of Arts degree; soon afterward it moved from Rittenhouse Square to a new campus in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. Between 1951 and 1952, the Collegiate Department separated from the seminary and was renamed Eastern Baptist College. It moved to a new 42-acre campus in St. David’s, the estate of Charles Walton.

Charles Walton was a wealthy leather tanner and church elder. After suffering a heart attack, he decided to build a country estate to escape the demands of his office work. His estate (“Walmarthon”) was finished in 1913, and Walton died three years later. Shane Albertson, an admissions counselor at the St. David’s campus, said, “Some of the buildings [from Walton’s original estate] still remain but the purpose has changed. The Mall Cottage was once a greenhouse. Andrews Hall was Walton’s garage where he kept his cars as well as his horse stable!” Additionally, the prayer chapel in Walton Hall was once a billiard room. The waterwheel (by the path that leads from Olson Field to Doane Hall) was used for Walton’s leather tanning business and is one of the few working waterwheels in the country. Willow Lake (behind Walton Hall) was originally a swimming pool.

During the first semester of Eastern Baptist College, there were a mere 47 students. Originally, male students lived in what is now called Guffin Hall, and female students lived in Doane Hall. Both residence halls were acquired with the purchase of neighboring estates. The college continued to expand and grow throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower made contributions to the building of the Warner Library, which was completed in 1964. In 1981, an MBA program was approved, marking the first graduate program of the college. The distinctive eagle in front of Walton Hall is a Wanamaker eagle, donated to the college by Hecht’s Department Store in 1995. After eight years of fundraising, the Bradstreet Observatory was built in 1996. Eastern College became a university in 2001. And in 2003, the university came full circle by acquiring Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which was renamed Palmer Theological Seminary.

The institution today known as Eastern University started from humble beginnings but has steadily grown into the wonderful campus we know today. 2025 will mark the 100th anniversary of Eastern, and we’re sure many more features will be added to our history book as we continue to grow.

Sources: Eastern University Website, More Than Knowledge by John Baird, Great House by John Baird, Senator Mastriano Website, ABC News, People Magazine 

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