Sunday, October 16, 2011

Forgotten Seminaries (Part 1): Hartwick Lutheran Seminary

Another Curious History

The histories of American seminaries are often forgotten, yet when we dig slightly deeper into these histories, we often find the interesting, curious, and even oddest of stories. Our tale today begins with one John Christopher Hartwick (1714-1796), who came from Germany to the North American continent in the 1740s to serve German congregations in the Hudson Valley. He worked in the town of Rhinebeck for a spell, but his overtly zealous pietism seemed to get him in trouble with his parishioners and ministerial colleagues. Soon he could not keep a job in any congregation, because of his strict preaching and practice. He eventually was able to procure a large piece of land in the area south of what is now Cooperstown, NY with the hopes of creating a utopian society, his "New Jerusalem." He did move to the region, but such dreams of utopianism didn't really come to fruition. When he died in 1797, he left his money to be used to found a seminary. But in an odd twist, the estate of Hartwick was left to one "Jesus Christ." Because of this, the seminary didn't open for nearly two decades after his death. For over a hundred years, this first of American Lutheran seminaries served a population of Lutheran pastors, pastors-to-be, and their flocks, before being closed and then folded into what is now Hartwick College. On a recent trip to Cooperstown this fall, I had a chance to drive by the actual site of the seminary, and stopped in the cool autumn rain to take a few photos. Though the seminary is no longer in existence, this faint reminder shows the partial vibrancy of churches and seminaries during the 19th century. And even if John Christopher Hartwick was unable to create his own "New Jerusalem" utopia, it may be considered by some that there is a bit of a different type of utopia in this valley that boasts the headwaters of the Susquehanna, in the form of Cooperstown and its bountiful environs. For it is a region complete with beautiful lakes, vineyards and wineries, breweries and cider presses, museums, antique shops and barns, and even a seasonal opera house. So even if you don't stop in the hamlet now called "Hartwick Seminary," its neighbors and its landscape are still impressive and inviting.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, John Christopher Hartwick died at Clermont, the home of Robert R. Livingston, in 1796.