Founded in 1955, Bridgewater College Special Collections holds hundreds of years of primary sources such as manuscripts, books, and photographs. Initially, the collection began as an archive of early college records and collection of rare books related to the Church of the Brethren and the College's first library. In 1964, with the opening of the Alexander Mack Memorial Library, its collections expanded with the addition of a rare materials vault and manuscript repository. Contents grew beyond only College's archives to include regional manuscripts and additional Church of the Brethren related documents. Special Collections recently incorporated the Reuel B. Pritchett Museum Collection under the umbrella of Special Collections.
The work of collecting, preserving and making these rare materials accessible continues in the John Kenny Forrer Learning Commons Special Collections Suite.
Image of library director Orland Wages, circa 1970.
Bridgewater College established a small museum of natural and archeological history in 1893. In 1954, the museum’s major donor, Church of the Brethren pastor, Tennessee farmer, and lifelong collector the Rev. Reuel B. Pritchett donated an extensive collection artifacts to the College. They included items relating to the history of textile processing, the history of writing, the history of lighting, international culture, glassmaking, weaponry, Native American culture, natural history, the Church of the Brethren, the history of Eastern Tennessee, and homesteading.
Since then, hundreds of other donors have provided artifacts to the museum, and curators have worked to display, curate, and interpret the growing collection. Curators included Jacob Replogle, Thelma Replogle, Byron Wampler, Terry Barkley and Dale Harter.
By 2010 artifacts were deteriorating from spending years on constant display. The College decided to closed the museum to tours in 2011 so that staff could conduct thorough inventory and develop a strategic plan for the future of the museum collection.
Special Collections Librarian Stephanie Gardner completed the analytical inventory in 2012. She also cataloged artifacts in the new Special Collections online catalog. Finally, she worked with students to interpret museum artifacts, to use them in classroom education and to move them into long term preservation storage as part of the Bridgewater College Special Collections. The museum collection will continue as a vibrant education and research collection with rotating display interpreting the collection artifacts to the campus and wider community.
Image of Reuel B. Pritchett holding his original handmade sign for the museum 1968.