Throughout the years, Reinhardt University has sought to honor those who make a substantial impact to the school, primarily by naming buildings for them. However, what some might not realize is the presence of two unique memorials honoring two of our former presidents, one of which is the Burgess Echo Garden.
Located in a serene area overlooking the recently constructed waterway near Hubbard Hall, the Echo Garden is a circular patio area with several stone benches. Those who stand in the correct spot in the middle of the patio can hear their voice reverberate as if on a stage, giving the garden its name. Often, students can be seen studying or relaxing between classes in the garden, but what many likely don’t know is the story behind the garden or of the man who shares its name.
Dr. James Rowland Burgess Jr. was President of Reinhardt University from 1944-1973. Reeling from the effects of World War II, the school struggled to stay open with only 111 students enrolled. Dr. Burgess saw this situation as a “glorious challenge” and determined his story would be that “of a man and a college – a college many thought was doomed to die,” Joel Langford, Reinhardt librarian/historian, said.
To save Reinhardt, Burgess initiated many events, the most notable being a Soil Conservation Day held on May 18, 1949. Reportedly thousands of volunteers arrived to help construct farm buildings, a fish pond and a faculty house with the day ending with a speech by Vice President of the United States, Alben Barkley. Burgess also raised for a new administration building that would be named after him and four new dormitories, a library and several faculty houses, according to Langford.
Despite these improvements, by 1955 the Methodist Conference was encouraging Reinhardt to shut its doors and merge with Young Harris College. Encouraged by the words of faculty member Decora Adams, Dr. Burgess rallied the Board of Trustees and met with the Methodist Bishop. When it came time to vote, the Methodist Conference decided Reinhardt would be allowed to remain open.
Two major events during Burgess’ presidency included the schools dropping high school level courses and the desegregation of Reinhardt.
In 1970, the Reinhardt Student Government Association proclaimed May 6 as James Rowland Burgess Jr. Day. On that day, the Burgess Echo Garden was dedicated. According to Langford’s research, the cross in the center of the patio reflects Burgess’ belief that the college should be religious because Burgess believes without religion, the school wouldn’t be worth the effort.
To this day, the Burgess Echo Garden remains a testament to the man Reinhardt owes its continued existence.
Written By: Jacob Howard. Photo Credits: Jacob Howard. Featured Image: Burgess Echo Garden.