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Oct/Nov 2006







college would stay if it could

by Gail Kerr

To learn more about Free Will Baptist Bible College, visit

THE COMPUTER STATIONS ARE CRAMMED into the foyer of the beautiful stone mansion built in 1904, whereonce Nashville’s wealthiest citizens sashayed in to attend fancy functions.

The carriage house, where horses were once fed, is the maintenance shop.

Beyond the magnificent mahogany fireplace, some of the Italian stained glass is covered by a fire wall.

These are all evidence that it’s time for the little church college on West End Avenue to move. Free Will Baptist Bible College sits on nine of the most valuable acres in Nashville, bordered by West End and Richland avenues, including that 1904 mansion called the Welch Library.

The school owns 17 buildings, many gorgeous old homes that once upon a time composed Nashville’s wealthiest, most elite neighborhood, when what is now the 3600 block of West End was the outskirts of town.

The school paid $14,000 in 1942 for its first building. Sometime this month, the school intends to sign a contract and sell the property for $16 million to Monument Property. And the college will move beyond the county line to a not-yet-finalized new location.


“We love this campus,” said President Matthew Pinson. “We really hate to leave. We would stay if we could. But we want to grow and fulfill our mission more than we want to stay.”

This small church college has 400 students, many studying to be teachers or ministers. It’s grown by 35 percent over the past year, the biggest bump in 22 years. To grow, it can’t stay.

There aren’t enough parking places. The dorms are too small. Computer technology is behind the times. “This is the sum total of our outdoor athletic program,” Pinson quips, pointing out two tennis courts.

The old buildings have beveled glass, crown molding, flowing staircases, pocket doors and transom windows. It’s all quite glorious. Until you look closer. Many offices and classes have window air-conditioners. Paint is peeling. Sidewalks are cracked. “We have a lot of deferred maintenance,” Pinson said, a tactful way to put it.

The college expects to close the deal by May and will be moving two years after that if fundraising goes well. The buyer, Pinson said, plans to develop “residential properties that maintain the historic character of the neighborhood.”

School officials have looked at more than a hundred pieces of property and narrowed it down to five, all outside Davidson County because “it’s cheaper.” Ultimately, the school plans to start a graduate-level program and grow to 1,000 full-time students, with perhaps an additional 500 in part-time programs.

But that’s decades away. For now, it will take it one step at a time.

Free Will Baptist Bible College has been a good neighbor. The students baby-sit for families and do service projects that keep the area clean, and school officials have been a dream to work with.

It’s never fun when good neighbors move away. All we can do is wish them Godspeed.

About the Writer: Gail Kerr is a columnist for The Tennessean, a Nashville, TN, based newspaper. Article reprinted with permission.




©2007 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists