Bethany is a special place—a small nineteenthcentury college town far removed from the madding crowd and almost totally unspoiled by twentieth-century intrusions or encroachments. Buffalo Creek's meandering course defines the boundaries south and east, while rolling, forested slopes north and west complete the town's effective natural borders. These natural features also help delineate the Bethany Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and contains two National Historic Landmarks.
Bethany owes its existence to one man's personality and achievement. Alexander Campbell, founder of the Disciples of Christ Church, moved here in 1811 and made Bethany the center of his extensive preaching, teaching, and publishing activities. On March 2, 1840, the Virginia Legislature chartered Campbell's Bethany College, and the first building was finished two years later.
Louis Hobbs, about whom more should be known, designed and built the complex, employing the conservative Greek Revival idiom typical of the period and place. Henry Howe thought the college sufficiently impressive to illustrate it in 1845. He also informed his readers that Campbell was “the founder of the denomination generally known as ‘the Campbellite Baptists’: a name, however, which they themselves do not recognize, taking that of ‘Disciples or Christian Baptists.’”
Bethany's small grid, nestled downhill and southeast of the campus, consists of only three or four streets crisscrossing each other at right angles. Several mid-nineteenth-century brick buildings are associated with the college in one way or another, as is everything else in Bethany. Generally two-story brick houses, they display modest Greek Revival details superimposed on forms that hearken back to the Federal period. The Campbell Mansion ( BR6), though surrounded by rolling fields east of town, is included within the historic district boundaries. Bethany's sanctum sanctorum was begun in 1798 and expanded on several occasions. The mansion and the small Gothic Revival study in the yard stand as enduring testaments to Alexander Campbell, who lies buried in a hillside cemetery nearby.
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