Hawthorne College was founded in 1898 by Ephraim Z. Tottenhaven as an independent – some said downright defiant – religious school with the intent of preparing students to be ministers in churches not closely affiliated with major religious sects of the day. Tottenhaven, a fiery evangelist, felt that conventional denominations were too intransigent to be able to recognize the Word of God. Over time the school came to be identified with evangelistic Pentecostalism. Under Tottenhaven’s firm guidance, the school grew steadily up until his death in 1927, reaching its early peak enrollment of about 800 students.
Inspiration – and funding – fell off after Tottenhaven’s death, at least partly due to the impact of the Great Depression. The college experienced a surge of enrollment after World War II, when students studying under the “G.I. Bill of Rights” were desperate for any college that could be found that had room for them. However, that surge ended by the early 1950s, and for the most part Hawthorne College went back to sleep. Both the endowment and enrollment dwindled up into the early 1980s, when it became clear to the administration that it was going to take more than prayer to fix the institution’s woes.
Up until that time the college had little interaction with the Hawthorne community, which had grown to surround the city block upon which the campus stood. Two actions were taken to try and save the college – first, a closer affiliation with a religious sect scattered around the Midwest, the Disciples of the Savior, though the college maintained its independent status. More importantly, a decision was made to accept local students as commuters to study in some “practical” fields that were introduced at the time. This program met with only partial success, since the community students were never accepted as more than second-class students against the religious elite, but some local students did manage degrees there.
By then the college was in trouble. There had been no new construction since 1928, a dormitory commissioned by Tottenhaven and completed after his death. There was little money available for maintenance on the aging buildings, and one dormitory dating from 1901 had to be abandoned. The campus took on a dilapidated if not downright decayed appearance. While no one in administration wanted to admit it, the end was clearly near. However, it was not until 1993 that the end finally came, when the mounting debt could no longer be covered up from the auditors and creditors, partly due to the fact that the administration preferred prayer to financial advice.
The above is copied from the Afterword published in The Spearfish Lake House Chapter 39