Huntington University was chartered under the laws of the State of Indiana as Central College in 1897 by the Board of Education of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ for the “higher education of the young people of said church and others.” The institution was named Central College because of its central location to churches in the denomination. Throughout its history, the University has fulfilled its founding mission by providing education firmly rooted in the liberal arts and preparing those entering service professions such as teaching, pastoral ministries and medicine, as well as business, law and other professions.

Huntington University is the direct successor of Hartsville College, chartered in 1850 under the name of Hartsville Academy. Hartsville closed in June 1897 and many students transferred to the new college in Huntington. In 1898, the Hartsville campus was destroyed by fire. The Hartsville College bell was recovered and taken to Huntington as a symbol of the close ties between the two schools. Today, the bell is displayed outside the RichLyn Library.

The opening of Huntington University has been called a work of divine providence. In 1896, the General Board of Education of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ made plans to open a new institution of higher learning. Before these plans were publicized, an unsolicited proposal was received from the Huntington Land Association. Three entrepreneurs (among them a United Brethren minister) proposed a strategic partnership: the Land Association would donate a three-story brick building, additional campus ground and operational cash. In return, the Church would equip and operate a school and sell lots in the surrounding neighborhood. Called a direct answer to prayer, the opportunity was “precipitated upon us like a clap of thunder,” said Bishop Milton Wright (whose sons, Orville and Wilbur, would be the first to fly).

Through this cooperation of Church and community, the University cornerstone was laid in August 1896. A year later, the local newspaper estimated that 1,200 people turned out for the dedication of the University. “Very impressive were the services at Central College,” reported the Huntington Herald, using the institution’s original name. “The new Central College was dedicated Tuesday afternoon, and the doors of the institution thrown open to all for their education as taught from the Word of God.”

Bishop Wright offered the prayer of dedication on September 21, 1897:

“It has been Thy good pleasure, O Lord, to give Thy people this property, this building, and these grounds to be used for the purpose of Christian education. Now, with hearts of gratitude to Thee, we desire to consecrate this edifice and these grounds to Thee. And now, O Lord, we dedicate this building from tower to foundation-stone with all its furniture of any and every kind, and all that may hereafter be put into it in harmony with piety and propriety, and dedicate these grounds with all improvements which may be made now or hereafter…We dedicate all these to Thee, O Lord, to the cause of Christian education, in the name of the triune God, Amen.”

Central College was renamed Huntington College in May 1917 in response to community interests. The institution became Huntington University on June 1, 2005. It retains its strong association with both the local community and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ as it continues to serve “the young people of said church and others.”