History

This information has been excerpted from The BTS Center Finding Aid and has been prepared by Patrick Ford, with the assistance of Laurie McQuarrie, Henry Caiazzo, Happy Copley, and Arielle Tselikis.
Maine Historical Society | Coll. 2770 | Bangor Theological Seminary Collection, 1798-2013

 

The Bangor Theological Seminary was a private, independent, non-profit religious institution chartered in 1814—6 years prior to Maine statehood—as the Maine Charity School, that closed its doors after its final commencement in June 2013. Under Congregational auspices, the seminary was ecumenical since its inception and was an official Open and Affirming institution. Before its closure it was the third oldest seminary in the country and the only accredited graduate school of religion in Northern New England.

BTS granted degrees including Bachelor of Divinity (B.Div.), Master of Divinity (M.Div.), Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.), Master of Arts (M.A.), and Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.). BTS affiliates include Jonathan Fisher, Kiah Bayley, John Sawyer, Joshua L. Chamberlain, Cyrus Hamlin, Warren Moulton, Samuel C. Fessenden, Elias Bond, Daniel Dole, Samuel Harris, John Smith Sewall, Charles J.H. Ropes, Enoch Pond, Calvin M. Clark, Francis B. Denio, Arthur C. McGiffert, Burton Throckmorton, David Trobisch, Susan E. Davies, and Marvin M. Ellison.

The seeds of the Seminary were planted in 1811 when members of the Society for Theological Education—most notably founding trustees Kiah Bayley, John Sawyer, and early alumnus, Jotham Sewall—set out to establish a school, “to procure for pious young men a collegiate education in order that they may be prepared for the Gospel ministry.”1

The charter for the school was granted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1814, classes began at Hampden in October 1916, the campus moved to Bangor in 1819, and the first class graduated in 1820.

Many graduates would go on to serve congregations throughout New England, and the school also became a launching pad for missionaries worldwide, who enlightened people in places such as Turkey, Africa, India, China, Hawaii, and Micronesia. Student groups such as the Society for Missionary Inquiry were active from the 1830s through the late 19th Century, and the Seminary collected publications from missionary organizations through the 1980s.

Though many entered BTS with a degree under their belts, the Seminary was perhaps most notable for providing—as its founders had hoped—an opportunity for those who otherwise lacked a formal education, a chance to study the ministry. The Bangor Plan, which began in 1938, escalated this strategy, especially for veterans coming home from World War II. As part of the Bangor Plan, a student could study for two years in the liberal studies program, enter the M.Div. program, and once that was completed, work as a minister while completing the undergraduate degree. It was also known as the “two plus three plus two plan.” In 1980, 60% of BTS students were on the Bangor Plan. In the 1990s, the Bangor Plan began to decline because the Association of Theological Schools started allowing any theology school to let 10% of their students to begin M.Div. studies without Bachelors’ degrees (this rose to 15% by 2012). The Bangor Plan was suspended in 2006.

BTS became a hub for progressive theology by the 2000s, and its annual Convocation and lecture series continued to attract top tier theologians and scholars throughout its existence. The suspension of the Bangor Plan and a declining enrollment were just two of many reasons that the Seminary decided to close its doors in 2013. However, BTS lives on as the BTS Center, a charitable organization “that equips and supports faith leaders for theologically grounded, effective leadership in 21st Century communities of faith and practice.”2

Timeline

  • 1811, July 27: Society for Theological Education organized
  • 1812, Feb. 27: Society for Theological Education incorporated
  • 1814, Feb. 25: Charter for Maine Charity School granted by Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 
chartered by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts
  • 1816, Oct.: Seminary opens at Hampden, Maine
  • 1819: Move to Bangor onto land donated by Isaac Davenport
  • 1820, March 15: Maine becomes a state
  • 1820, Aug. 2: First class graduates
  • 1821: 131 Congregational churches in the state of Maine
  • Circa 1823: The name “Maine Charity School” falls out of common usage (though still used for 
legal purposes), and Bangor Theological Seminary becomes unofficial name of school
  • 1824: The first building, the original Chapel, is built in Bangor, on the south side of Hammond 
Street, later site of the Hannibal Hamlin House, burned 1829
  • 1827-1828: Old Commons House (331-341 Hammond Street) built; Architect: Nathan
  • 1829, March: Original Chapel burns
  • 1833-1834: Maine Hall (288 Union Street) built; Architect: Charles H. Pond
  • 1836: New Commons built; Architect: Charles G. Bryant
  • 1856: Harris House (306-308 Union Street) built
  • 1857-1882: The Rev. Enoch Pond President of BTS
  • 1858-1859: Chapel built; Architect: William Morse
  • 1870: Semi-Centennial Celebrated
  • 1882, Jan. 21: Enoch Pond dies
  • 1882-1903: President’s office “in abeyance”
  • 1887: Official name change to Bangor Theological Seminary
  • 1893: Denio House (347-349 Hammond Street) built; Architect: Wilfred Mansur
  • 1895: 75th Anniversary
  • 1895: Gymnasium (later Wellman Commons) built; Architect: Wilfred Mansur
  • 1903-1921: The Rev. David N. Beach President of BTS
  • 1905: Officially authorized to award Degree of Divinity
  • 1905: Convocation Week Established
  • 1907: Lenora Hawkes Jones—the first woman to attend BTS—graduates
  • 1908: Martin House (353 Hammond Street) built
  • 1911: Great Fire of Bangor (BTS unaffected)
  • 1912, Fall: Electric lights introduced in Maine Hall, and central heating plant installed
  • 1912-1913: Warren Moulton in Palestine as head of the American School of Oriental Research
  • 1916, Oct. 15-18: Centennial Celebration
  • 1917, Jan.: Former President Taft speaks at BTS’s 12th Annual Convocation Week (1st, 2nd, and 3rd 
Enoch Pond Lectures)
  • 1919: Sanborn House (311 Hammond Street) acquired
  • 1918-1920: Convocation canceled
  • 1921-1933: The Rev. Warren J. Moulton President of BTS
  • 1922: Sanborn Cottage (264 Union Street) acquired
  • 1933-1952: The Rev. Harry Trust President of BTS
  • 1934: Moses Rice House (199 Cedar Street) acquired
  • 1938: Bangor Plan established
  • 1944: Convocation canceled
  • 1944-1945: Pond Hall (40 Pond Street) acquired
  • 1952-1978: The Rev. Frederick W. Whittaker President of BTS
  • 1955: 
Peirce House (214 Cedar Street) acquired
  • 1957:
 United Church of Christ was founded and the Congregational Christians and the Evangelical Reformed churches merge
  • 1958-1959: Moulton Library built; Architects: Crowell, Lancaster, Higgins, and Webster
  • 1961: The Rev. Clarice M. Bowman becomes first woman resident faculty member of seminary
  • 1964:
Hannibal Hamlin House (15 Fifth Street) acquired
  • 1964,
Feb. 25: Sesquicentennial Celebration
  • 1970:
B.Div. nomenclature changed to M.Div.
  • 1976:
BTS gains full accreditation status from ATS and NEASC
  • 1977, 
Aug. 2: BTS entered into the National Register of Historic Places
  • 1985-1986: Ruth Rich Hutchins Center built, adjoining gymnasium
  • 1978-1986: The Rev. G. Wayne Glick President of BTS
  • 1984: Lower Hotel (303 Hammond Street) acquired for student housing
  • 1978-1986: The Rev. G. Wayne Glick President of BTS
  • 1984: Lower Hotel (303 Hammond Street) acquired for student housing
  • 1985-1986: Ruth Rich Hutchins Center built, adjoining gymnasium
  • 1987-1995: The Rev. Malcolm L. Warford President of BTS
  • 1988: BTS begins offering courses in Portland (first at USM Gorham, then at MECA, then at State 
Street Congregational Church (SSCC))
  • 1988: Portland Theological Library and General Theological Library (of Boston) merge to form the General Theological Center of Maine, located in Portland
  • 1990: Authorized by state of Maine Board of Education to confer Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) and Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degrees
  • 1990: Awarded major grant from the Lilly Endowment to fund “A School In Three Places”— developing new Seminary campuses in Portland, Maine, and Hanover, New Hampshire
  • 1991: “A School In Three Places” plan launched
  • 1991: School computerized and linked by electronic mail
  • 1991: BTS acquires and assumes responsibility of the General Theological Library
  • 1991, Sept. 4: Classes begin at State Street Congregational Church in Portland
  • 1991, Oct. 18: Dedication of Portland Campus
  • 1992: The first M.T.S. degree awarded
  • 1994: The first D.Min. degree awarded
  • 1995-2001: The Rev. Ansley Coe Throckmorton President of BTS
  • 1998: Hanover Campus closes
  • 1998: Comprehensive evaluation of BTS by NEASC
  • 2001-2008: The Rev. William Imes President of BTS
  • 2004: Accredited to offer all degrees in full on Portland campus
  • 2005: Move to Husson University campus in Bangor
  • 2006: Bangor Plan admissions suspended
  • 2008-2011: Dr. Kent J. Ulery President of BTS
  • 2011, July 1: Robert Grove-Markwood named Interim President of BTS
  • 2012-2013: Robert Grove-Markwood President of BTS
  • 2013, June 22: 194th and Final Commencement Exercises of the Seminary
  • 2013, Nov. 12: BTS archival collection officially transferred to Maine Historical Society
  • 2013: The BTS Center founded, Portland
1 Calvin M. Clark, History of Bangor Theological Seminary (Boston: The Pilgrim Press, 1916), 18.
2 “About: The BTS Center,” The BTS Center, accessed June 3, 2016, http://www.thebtscenter.org/about/.