Bethesda Academy Receives $10,000 Grant to Study Historic Campus Grounds and History, Linking Past to Present
The General Society of Colonial Wars awards the requested sum to research, dig and maintain documentation on the school’s past.
(SAVANNAH, Ga.) Bethesda Academy, an independent private day school for boys and young men and the oldest child-care institution in the U.S., was awarded a $10,000 grant by the General Society of Colonial Wars for historical research and an archeological dig on the 650-acre Savannah campus.
Founded as an orphanage by evangelist George Whitefield in 1740, Bethesda Academy once boasted the largest building in the colony of Georgia. The actual location of that original building, made of bricks that had to be imported from the Northeast, is currently unknown. The historical significance of the building and its construction extends beyond the campus to the entire colony itself.
“That building saved the colony from bankruptcy because Mr. Whitefield went up and down the East Coast to Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, raising money for the project and keeping so many people working. It had a profound effect on Georgia way back then,” said Paul Pressly, vice-chairman of the board of Bethesda Academy and a board member of the General Society of Colonial Wars.
The board members agree the evolution of this historic institution also connects the present to the past. Bethesda Orphan House has the distinction of being the oldest child caring institution in the country. It was co-ed for a brief period at the start but eventually, in 1900, became the Bethesda Home for Boys, an institute educating and teaching trades to young men. In 1992, Bethesda School began educating students on the 600-acre campus, providing a wide range of learning experiences rooted in George Whitefield’s founding mission. In 2011, the school was officially re-branded as Bethesda Academy, an accredited private school that has since developed into a leadership academy, reflecting the school’s commitment to college preparatory learning.
“Our history isn’t individual segments, but an ongoing story. The school motto, ‘A love of God, a love of learning, and a strong work ethic,’ connects us to our past because that means as much now as it did in 1740,” Pressly added.
Knowing more about the school’s history is important to connect past and future, and telling the school’s story on a national level will help garner wider support. This endeavor won’t be the first time Bethesda Academy strives for a nationwide audience. It happened before, more than a century ago.
John Reddan, Director of Institutional Advancement at Bethesda Academy, explains that in the late 1800s, Col. William Estill, whose family owned the Savannah Morning News, was a board member of the school. He regularly wrote newspaper columns about the school, and the inspiring stories of Bethesda’s challenges and triumphs were occasionally picked up by the national news wire service.
“As a result, Bethesda in Savannah was getting donations from Maine to Chicago and from other big cities around the country,” Reddan said. “A national audience at the turn of the century was unheard of at the time. We would like to get one now, and this donation helps us let people know the difference we make in the lives of people in our care.”
The General Society of Colonial Wars holds conventions in areas with historical significance to the Revolutionary War. The group met in Savannah in February 2022, with representatives touring the Bethesda Academy campus to discuss its role in the Revolutionary War. The history and present of the school and its mission struck a chord with the organization. Five months later, the grant was awarded.
The General Society of Colonial Wars is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in New York in 1892 for the purpose of furthering the interest in and study of America’s Colonial history for the period between the settlement of Jamestown, Va., on May 13, 1607, and the battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775. The Society continues its mission by collecting and preserving manuscripts, rolls, relics and records; erecting memorials; hosting commemorations; and supporting academic research for the purpose of inspiring in the community a respect and reverence for those whose public service made our freedom and unity possible.
ABOUT BETHESDA ACADEMY
Founded in 1740, Bethesda Academy is the oldest child-care institution in the United States. Now it is an independent private day school for young men in grades six through twelve and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The 650-acre campus features a variety of athletic teams, a wildlife management and cattle program and a college preparatory curriculum. Through its “Lead The Way” initiative, students have access to exclusive integrated learning and leadership opportunities. For more information, visit www.bethesdaacademy.org or call 912.644.4376.