Central College is located in Pella, Iowa, a picturesque community of 10,000 set amid gently rolling hills 40 miles southeast of Des Moines. Pella was once described by a magazine writer as “European.” Its flower-lined streets, distinctive Dutch architecture, charming retail shops, and famous bakeries attract tourists from around the world.
The annual Tulip Festival, celebrating the town’s Dutch heritage, attracts over 150,000 visitors each year and over 350,000 to the community annually. Pella’s unique blend of sophistication and small town intimacy have been noted in several national publications, including The New Yorker and Midwest Living magazines.
Spawned by the wilderness of pre-Civil War Iowa, Central College has, since its inception, been committed to the ideals of liberal education. Originally a Baptist institution, Central was founded in 1853 by a determined group of pioneer settlers who emigrated to central Iowa to escape religious tyranny in the Netherlands.
Central College officially opened on Oct. 8, 1854, with a class of 37. The “campus” consisted of one two-story building containing three rudimentary classrooms. This fledgling institution grew both in size and mission during its first 60 years, eventually moving to a parcel of land donated by Pella’s founding father, Dominie Pieter Scholte. The College survived fires, three wars, and economic depression during a period of history that saw the United States double in size. It remained solvent because of the faith and dedication of its early faculty members, some of whom accepted produce from local farms as payment.
In 1916, Central was transferred from Baptist control to the Reformed Church in America. The relationship with the RCA strengthened the College as families within the denomination sent their sons and daughters to be educated for teaching and the ministry. As its academic reputation grew, Central attracted many more students from outside the denomination.
International study programs were introduced in 1965, spawning an institutional emphasis on cross-cultural study. The first overseas study center was established in Paris, France, and a second was added in Vienna, Austria. Later, programs were opened in Granada, Spain; Bangor, Wales; London, England; Merida, Yucatan; Hanhzhou, China; and Leiden, the Netherlands.