Bethany College Celebrates Reopening of Historic Cochran Hall

BETHANY, W.Va. — Bethany College celebrated the restoration and official reopening of one of its historic buildings, Cochran Hall, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on August 16. Cochran Hall will serve as Bethany’s newest residence, housing 72 students in its newly renovated modern suite-style rooms.  

The Hall, constructed in 1910, was originally used as a men’s residence and later for faculty offices with a guest apartment in the basement. It was dedicated in 1912 to Percy Bayard Cochran, a 1900 graduate of Bethany College and son of 1875 graduate and building founder Mark Mordecai (M.M.) Cochran. The father and son were two among at least four generations of Cochrans who have attended Bethany.

“This sense of place, tradition and continuity is part of what makes Bethany College so special,” stated Bethany College President Scott D. Miller, who holds the M.M. Cochran Professorship in Leadership Studies.

At least three Cochran family members have served as trustees, including M.M. Cochran, current Trustee Elizabeth (Beth) Sweeney Athol ‘82 and her aunt Ann Cochran Preston ’56.

“It’s wonderful to know that it is being preserved,” Athol said of the Hall, which has been vacant in recent years.

Athol’s mother, Mary Cochran Sweeney ’53 of Mt. Lebanon, Pa., an Alumni Council member from 1990-1999, remembers the residence as all-male during her years on campus. She and sisters Ann and Margaret Cochran Norton ’55 lived in the Zeta Tau Alpha house, while a fourth, the late Susan Emma Cochran, lived in a women’s residence.  Daughters Beth ‘82 and Margaret Sweeney West ’84 are also alumnae.

M.M. (1854-1936), the eldest Cochran, was closely connected with his alma mater as a student, trustee, patron and benefactor during almost two-thirds of Bethany’s existence. Born at the start of the industrial era, when the region’s economy was shifting from agriculture to manufacturing and mining, he saw the rise of western Pennsylvania as a steel and coal colossus. The youngest of 13 children, he displayed the traits of independence and originality in action that would mark his adult life. 

A Bethany student in what has been called “the golden era,” his classmates included Champ Clark, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; Joseph Rucker Lamar, a U.S. Supreme Court justice; and the third President of Bethany College (1887-1889) W.H. Woolery. Cochran married a local woman, the former Emma Whitsett, daughter of Dr. James E. Whitsett, a trustee.

After leaving Bethany, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress, accepted the Democratic nomination for district attorney in his county in 1883 and became a Board member of Bethany in 1881. At the turn of the century, his support helped to transform the College and the town. In addition to Cochran Hall, he created an endowed president’s chair and funded physical enhancements, including a central heating plant, electric power plant, water system, interurban electric line and the Cochran cottages.

Bethany College is a small college of national distinction located on a picturesque and historic 1,300-acre campus in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Founded in 1840, Bethany is the state’s oldest private college.