Union Seminary/Central Pennsylvania College
New Berlin, Pennsylvania
Central Pennsylvania College is profiled in F. Wilbur Gingrich and Eugene H. Barth’s History of Albright College as one of the predecessors of Albright. Photos and other archival materials are found in the digital collections of Albright College and Union County Historical Society.
Union Seminary was founded by the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the Evangelical Church. It opened in January 1856 in a new building at New Berlin, PA. Closed during part of the Civil War, it was reorganized as a four-year college in 1887. At that time it took the name Central Pennsylvania College.
An 1898 advertisement for CPC in the Philadelphia Inquirer notes the healthful climate, the beautiful location, the moderate expenses and the four courses of study. An accompanying article states that the school provides a unique opportunity for those “who have not had the full preparation,” especially “young men from the farms and workshops” In another article in 1898, the Inquirer calls CPC a "minor college," but praises it for its low expenses--less than $150 per year-- and its lower entrance requirements: “three books of Caesar, two of Virgil, Latin grammar, Greek grammar and the Anabasis, elementary Algebra and two books of geometry.” A 1901 write-up in the Inquirer noted the good rapport between students and faculty.
Enrollment remained low—between 82 and 117 students annually with 4-13 graduating. An 1889 photo of the student body shows only five co-eds. The college also experienced financial difficulties. A state law in 1895 requiring $100,000 in endowments invalidated CPC degrees for a time; in 1901 the degrees were once again made valid when the law was amended to require $100,000 in property rather than endowments.
Student organizations included a chapter of the YMCA, two literary societies—the Excelsior and Neocosmian—the Agassiz Society for Scientific Study, and a women’s organization called the Enigma Society.
In 1902 a reorganization of Evangelical colleges in Eastern Pennsylvania merged CPC with Albright College.
Bricks and Mortar
The new building on the north end of New Berlin was completed in 1855. It was a three-story brick building with basement, and it contained classrooms, library, laboratories, society rooms, and dormitory rooms. At a later point, it added a mansard roof, giving a fourth story. But in the 1890’s, we begin to see notes that the building is inadequate for the college.
After the merger of Central Pennsylvania College with Albright College at Myerstown, the New Berlin building was used by another “Union Seminary” from 1904 to 1911. The building then stood empty until 1919 when it housed a silk mill—called a “silk throwing school” to get around the deeded provision that it be used only for educational purposes. After again standing empty for a number of years, the building suffered a partial collapse in 1943 and was dynamited in 1944. A public school stands on the grounds today.
Central Pennsylvania College instituted athletic scholarships in 1899. Gingrich notes that President Aaron E. Gobble and the faculty of CPC unanimously supported the proposal to admit two students annually “with free tuition if they are of recognized athletic ability, so as to give prestige to the baseball and football clubs of our college.” Actually, as Gingrich also notes, in its short history, sports at CPC gained little traction and enjoyed little success. With only 12-16 players, CPC was outmanned by most opponents. College Football Data Warehouse shows only one football victory—Over Laurelton Athletic Club in 1899; newspaper accounts show an 1898 victory over Millersburg College.
However, one of the school organizations was the Athletic Association, which raised funds to purchase uniforms for the baseball and football teams in 1899.
Union Seminary building. (Evangelical Centennial Celebration 1816-1916, <babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nnc1.cr61084123;view=1up;seq=63>
An early Union Seminary baseball team. (Courtesy of the New Berlin Heritage Museum Collection)