Preserving Eastern’s history and Charles Walton’s Legacy
We are the stewards of the past. The past cannot speak for itself: the walls of the ancient mansion cannot talk, nor can the ground reveal who once walked upon it. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said that we could leave footprints on the sands of time, which someday, long after we are gone, may be discovered by another soul who may take them up, and carry on where we left off.
In many of his movies, actor James Stewart played the man who is a supporter of “the lost causes”—the causes that seem impossible to win, and the causes that few care to fight. I would argue that these are the causes that should be fought with the most enthusiasm: supporting the old man whose farm is going to be paved over, saving the one-room schoolhouse that has been condemned or, on a larger scale, fighting against a political machine. The lost causes are the causes that seem old-fashioned. They are the causes that are based on justice, values, ethics and doing what is right. They are the causes that some spend their whole lives fighting for, and some even die for.
Charles Walton believed in lost causes. When he brought inner-city children from Philadelphia to the high society of the Main Line many believed him to be crazed. When he built a massive estate with architecture that seemed unsymmetrical and unruly for the Main Line many laughed. They laughed even more when they saw that the massive estate had no gates around it. Charles Walton proclaimed that his property was opened to the community: its lakes, grounds, log cabin and even the mansion were opened to anyone who needed a place to rest, relax or talk about Scripture. Yes, some criticized Mr. Walton, and yet he did not back down from his quest to leave the world a bit better than he had found it. When he passed away more than 500 mourners crowded into his home to remember a man who believed in lost causes.
Every day students walk by the old Walton mansion, the lakes and the fields of Charles Walton’s dream upon a hill. Many times the beauty of this land and its buildings that are so often seen have gone unnoticed. Yes, the lost causes are the ones that even though they are in front of us, have gone unnoticed. Now it is proclaimed that we have to modernize the old buildings, and there is talk that they are not historically significant. The mansion, the lakes and the grounds that we are stewards of have become unimportant. The historic architecture, from Walton Hall’s mahogany wood, the gothic great room and the medieval chapel, to Albert Herter’s beautiful roses painted in the atrium at the entrance of the chapel, can never be replaced. In a world that is for modernization and technological advancements, that seeks to tear down the old for the sake of saving money, it is not easy, nor is it a popular cause, to preserve old buildings. The destruction of history has become socially acceptable, and saving our history has become a lost cause.
Most colleges have museums where you can go to reflect on all the progress that has been made. Eastern University does not have such a museum, and its early history is nearly forgotten. Many do not remember that Eastern itself was once considered a lost cause. Former Eastern Dean Dr. George S. Claghorn points this out in his book “Mount Up With Wings.” He writes that many criticized the original trustees, a group of businessmen and clergymen who believed that they were called by God to establish a collegiate division of Eastern Baptist Seminary. It was said that Christian colleges were fading from the spotlight, that they were dinosaurs in a progressive age. But these chosen men would take up this lost cause, and they prayed unceasingly for God to provide a means to make the establishment of a college possible. God provided, and their lost cause is still in existence 63 years later as Eastern University.
Eastern is currently at a critical point in its history. The decisions made today will not only alter the physical appearance of the University, but also how the University functions. Jesus said, “‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed….Nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17:20, NIV). Eastern has this faith, and it is up to the students, faculty, administrators and alumni to keep it alive. It is in these trying times that we are to look back to our forefathers and remember their sacrifices and their faith that made Eastern possible. We are to uncover their footsteps and carry on where they left off. We are to champion the lost causes that they fought so hard for, one of which was to create an educational institution where Christ would be paramount. And we are to save our history—our roots—as a University.
In the next 10 years, another historical building, the Janet Long Mall Cottage, may be lost, and renovations will occur that could possibly change the appearance and originality of Walton Hall. If done correctly, these changes will restore Walton back to its grandness as a great house for all to use; if done haphazardly, any trace of history will be wiped from its walls.
My words do not do this cause of preserving history justice. They are insufficient, but I have chosen to uncover the footsteps of those who came before me, including Charles Walton, in order to carry on where they left off. I will stand with them and champion this lost cause of saving our history. It is my prayer that you will too.