Northfield, Massachussetts: A billionaire family from Oklahoma has turned a no-stoplight town in Massachusetts into an essential destination for Christian institutions nationwide with one extraordinary promise.
They've pledged to give away a 217-acre campus there for free. Free, it turns out, is an appealing price for the campus founded by famed evangelist D.L. Moody and estimated by its owner to be worth $20 million (Dh73.44 million).
In recent months, the western Massachusetts property has drawn a stream of secret and not-so-secret visitors.
Each suitor must commit to offer an education founded on traditional Christian beliefs and prove they have the money to maintain this sprawling, classic New England campus.
"It's spectacular. It's spectacular. That's all I can say," said Tracy Davis, academic dean of California-based Olivet University, as she walked the grounds last Thursday. Locals are ready to welcome new neighbours. But there's concern about who's moving in, including how a conservative Christian institution will mesh in a town of about 3,000 in this notably liberal state.
"We hope that whatever's here can bring people together and not divide," said Alexander Stewart, chair of a town committee monitoring the sale.
The campus was once home to the Northfield Mount Hermon prep school, which was founded as a girls' school by Moody in 1879. The rolling property lines the Connecticut River Valley to the east and climbs high enough to offer views into neighbouring New Hampshire and Vermont.
But in 2005, Northfield Mount Hermon left to consolidate at another nearby campus, escaping more than $1 million in annual utility costs and the deferred maintenance on a century's worth of august, but aging, stone and brick buildings.
The campus now belongs to the Green family, who own the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby craft store chain. They bought it for $100,000 in 2009, intending to give it to a new college named for Christian scholar C.S. Lewis.