Family Restores Christian School in ‘Education Valley’

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NORTHFIELD, Mass. -- The small town of Northfield, Mass., is in an area often called "education valley." While the region is now known for academia and secular liberalism, it also has deep Christian roots.

Legendary evangelist D.L. Moody founded a school in Massachusetts that, over time, grew cold to the Gospel.

But the family behind the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby wanted to see that now empty campus return to its original purpose.

"They want to see an organization come in that offers programming that's in the heritage of what Moody established the campus for," Jerry Pattengale, director of the Green Scholars Initiative, explained to CBN News.

Moody was born in a house that sits on the grounds of the campus he founded in 1879. The graves of him and his wife, Emma, overlook the school originally known as Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies.

"I think that he thought to evangelize women, it would be good to have women who were evangelists," Peter Weis, an archivist on the "Moody campus," said.

The seminary eventually turned into the secularized Northfield Mount Hermon prep school for girls. It now sits vacant after consolidating with a nearby campus for boys in 2005 to save money.

Move-In Ready

The Green family purchased the breathtaking property, reportedly worth around $20 million, for only $100,000 in 2009. They've put about $6 million into renovating the 217-acre campus and its 43 storybook buildings.

The building requiring the most work on campus was the chapel. The town inspector condemned the building after he discovered the chapel roof was close to collapsing. More than $1 million in renovations have been spent on that building alone.

The Oklahoma family now plans to give away the Moody campus, free of charge, to the right Christian institution. They want an education in the valley to once again give students a mountaintop experience through faith in Christ and a knowledge of biblical truth.

"Here's a book that they've got on their shelf that they may not even know to what extent it has influenced their lives, given them the freedoms that they have," Hobby Lobby President Steve Green told CBN News, referring to the Bible.

The Greens originally planned to give the school to a new college named after Christian scholar C.S. Lewis. But after fundraising problems, they began their search for another owner.

It's Pattengale's job to find a recipient who will faithfully uphold orthodox Christianity. The right candidate must also have the finances for the preservation of the campus with its Victorian-era buildings.

"The ministry needs to be able to maintain not only the utilities, but also the deferred maintenance, just the upkeep," Pattengale said. "It takes a good program, and it takes answered prayers."

Steve Green said he hopes to transfer the school to its new owners by the end of the year.

Fight for What's Right

Some residents of Northfield and nearby towns look forward to the campus reopening as a Christian school.

"I'm very excited because the experience I had here as a mom and as a faculty member was just goosebumps," Jeanne Golrick, a former educator at the Moody campus, shared with CBN News.

"God is on the move in New England, absolutely," local pastor Verne Williams emphasized. "This campus - this can really change the cause of Christ in New England."

Not everyone, however, supports the idea. Alex Stewart graduated from the prep school in 1942 and now heads a town committee monitoring the gift of the campus.

"This is a progressive valley, a liberal valley; we're in the Northeast," Stewart said. "People are concerned that the college not be close-minded, but open-minded."

Pattengale said one protestor wrote him that the "capital of lesbianism" was nearby.

In addition, some Northfield residents and Mount Hermon alumni, expressed opposition when Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, showed interest in the property.

More than 1,000 alumni signed a petition labeling Liberty "an extremist, homophobic, and intellectually narrow institution."

Restoring Roots

Still, Northfield Mount Hermon has no control over what the Greens do with the campus.

"We're looking for a group that will say, 'You might believe some things differently, but here's what the Bible teaches, and we want to carry on that tradition,'" Pattengale said.

"At the end of the day, you turn back and you see what you've done and where you're at, and you have to stop and take a moment and just realize what it all really means," James Hackett, one of the workers renovating the Moody campus, told CBN News.

A revitalized campus now waits for a Christian owner to bring in students. And a mile of new sidewalks, renovated roofs and porches, and refurbished furniture like 1894 chairs in the auditorium where D.L. Moody preached will be put to use.

The Greens are looking forward to the day Moody's 1879 mission to train students to fulfill the Great Commission will again become a reality -- this time in the 21st century.

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Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.