Bishop James M. Ault and President Paul Hardin at the cornerstone ceremony for the United Methodist Archives.
Bishop James M. Ault and President Paul Hardin at the cornerstone ceremony for the United Methodist Archives and History Center.

Methodist Librarian and Coordinator of Special Collections, Drew University Library

In September 1982 several large moving trucks arrived at Drew University from Lake Junaluska, N.C. They brought a special delivery for the recently constructed United Methodist Archives and History Center: several hundred boxes of objects and records related to the history of Methodism dating to the 18th century—books, archival records, shelving, paintings, furniture and ephemera.

The international archive of the United Methodist Church had arrived on campus only after several years of negotiations between Drew representatives and the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH).

These discussions began at the 1978 GCAH annual meeting. Drew had sent a team to North Carolina that included President Paul Hardin, Dean James Kirby of the Theological School and Dr. Kenneth E. Rowe, Methodist librarian and professor of church history at the Theological School. Dr. Rowe, a member of the GCAH for several years, was instrumental in laying the groundwork for collaboration between Drew and the GCAH.

According to the GCAH meeting record from that year, their presentation was a success. The Drew team returned to campus to organize a fundraiser and to draw up architectural plans for the new center. The following year the Drew team once again attended the annual meeting and presented a detailed plan with architectural renderings for a new $2.75 million, state-of-the-art archival facility. Drew promised, and delivered, funding from a capital campaign supported by alumni, charitable foundations and donors affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

In October 1980 a groundbreaking ceremony was attended by Methodist bishops, clergy and laity along with Drew University administrators, faculty, staff and students. A symbolic shovel from the 1938 construction of Drew’s Rose Memorial Library was taken out of the university archives to turn campus soil once again, initiating a two-year building project. By the fall of 1982 the 33,000-square-foot building included offices, reading rooms and 300,000 cubic feet of archival storage space.

Over 30 years later, the archival home for the United Methodist Church remains at Drew. The repository contains several thousand linear feet of material and more than 50,000 print and microform resources, including books, periodicals, pamphlets and newspapers of both the collections of the GCAH and Drew University. The collection is the largest of its kind in the United States and is likely the largest collection on global Methodism in the world.

All year long, students at Drew, as well as researchers from around the world, use the materials housed in the center for course work, genealogy, journal articles and book projects. The center also receives occasional requests to assist with film and television projects, most recently Denzel Washington’s film The Great Debaters (2008) and the PBS series American Experience.

Last year, the Drew Library received a $1 million gift from benefactor Norman Tomlinson. The gift will enable us to upgrade the HVAC system for improved climate-control, which helps preserve these irreplaceable materials. Also, compact shelving will be installed in the second floor, allowing us to accommodate new acquisitions. Once renovations are completed this summer, Drew and the GCAH will have an appropriate home for a world-renowned collection.

Learn more about the Methodist Archives >

Posted in Gateway Messenger