We’ve all experienced the power of place. At SI Global Academy, students engage not only in Immersive Experiences in the U.S., Costa Rica, Peru, Austria and in other partner communities across the globe, but they immerse on a daily basis in the history, culture, and beauty of their home campus: a 1,200 acre mountain retreat owned by The Y Blue Ridge Assembly.
“Eureka, we have found it!”
The Y Blue Ridge Assembly was founded in 1906 as a summer conference ground where students and other groups could learn in an inspirational setting. As legend goes, founder Dr. Willis D. Weatherford Sr. of Nashville, TN scoured the mountains of western North Carolina for the perfect location for a gathering place where men and women, black and white, could come together for learning, a monumental vision for the early 20th century South.
At one point, Weatherford decided to climb a tree to get a clear view. When he reached the top, he looked across the Swannanoa Valley and saw the Seven Sisters Mountain Range and the towering Mount Mitchell and the Craggy Mountains in the distance, at which point he exclaimed, “Eureka, we have found it!”
Campus visitors today can experience the same breathtaking view from the front porch of Eureka Hall, the academic hall of SIGA.
Constructing legacy of learning
The year after Weatherford’s expedition, early leaders purchased more than 1,500 acres in Black Mountain and, being stewards of the property, used only wood from this land to construct early Blue Ridge buildings.
In 1912, Blue Ridge’s landmark building, Eureka Hall, was completed. Eureka was meant to house 400 people, but the first conference at Blue Ridge attracted more than 1,000 students! Construction of more buildings was required, including the SIGA residence hall, Abbott Hall, which was completed in 1927.
Today, Blue Ridge is home to more than 30 historic buildings, halls, cottages, and lodges. In addition, the campus boasts outdoor classrooms, a state of the art dining hall, and athletic fields, a gymnasium, indoor rock climbing, ropes courses, hiking, running and biking trails, campsites, a disc golf course, a lake and fire pits, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, archery, and an amphitheater on more than 1,200 acres of land.
Black Mountain College
In 1933, an experimental college led by educator John Andrew Rice was founded at Blue Ridge. Black Mountain College was founded around John Dewey's principles of experiential education, which emphasized holistic learning and the study of art as central to a liberal arts education.
The college became a forerunner in teaching art, education and lifestyle, and many of the school's faculty and students would go on to become highly influential in the arts, including Josef and Anni Albers, Charles Olson, Ruth Asawa, Dorothea Rockburne, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Franz Kline, Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Allen Ginsberg. The college also attracted well-known visitors and lecturers like Albert Einstein, John Dewey, Thornton Wilder, Henry Miller and Aldous Huxley.
Black Mountain College moved to a new campus in 1937 and, due to financial difficulties, closed its doors for good in 1956, but the history of Black Mountain College is preserved at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center located in downtown Asheville as well as the Swannanoa Valley Museum in Black Mountain.
Blue Ridge Today: A Global Hub
Thousands of people and groups experience the wonder of Blue Ridge today. In addition to corporate retreats, school field trips, youth leadership conferences, and summer camps, the campus is home to CreatEd Institute, a small, 16-month post-secondary program for high school graduates based on the liberal arts that includes travel experiences in Italy.
Blue Ridge also recruits and hosts international staff each summer, with employees coming from more than 30 countries, making it a global hub tucked away in the mountains of western North Carolina. Japan alone has sent more than 500 students to work at Blue Ridge!
Guests come to Blue Ridge from around the world for international conferences throughout the year, including an annual retreat on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism in the Gelugpa Tradition and the annual Black Mountain Music Festival, a celebration of Appalachian and Native American music.
SIGA is thrilled to join and contribute to the rich legacy of learning, creativity, stewardship and inspiration that lives at Blue Ridge!
Source: Eureka! A Century of YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly
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