Ralston College for the Eyes of “Free Thinkers” Raskin Antiques in Savannah
This story is part of First City Progress, a weekly series about new developments in Savannah and the Coastal Empire. If there are any projects that interest you or that we have overlooked, email Zoe at [email protected]
A new university billing itself as the “rebirth and reinvention of the traditional university” has chosen Savannah for its home and is seeking to take over a longtime antique store on Monterey Square for its first physical campus.
Ralston College is a libertarian-leaning university founded by Stephen Blackwood, a Canadian-born social commentator and philosopher. The school’s goal is to bring higher education back to its ancient roots, when seminars and lectures focused on the humanities (language, history, arts, and philosophy). Blackwood said the university has no religious or political affiliations.
Until now, Ralston has been an online humanities-based institution offering virtual seminars and lectures, but has chosen Savannah as its campus location, according to a February 2022 announcement.
The college plans to purchase the Noble Hardee Mansion on Monterey Square, which houses Alex Raskin Antiques. Raskin said the “deal is not yet done” to sell the 1870s mansion, which features a wrought-iron balcony and four stories of unrestored grandeur.
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Blackwood, who is also Ralston’s first president, said the school is also considering other properties in the historic district for its first-ever graduate program, a master’s degree in humanities to be offered this fall.
Savannah will host three of the program’s four terms – the first will be in Samos, Greece, as an ode to where early philosophers and democratic thinkers flourished in Hellenic times in ancient Greece. The program will be offered to 20 students, all of whom will receive free tuition, Blackwood said. The aim of the school is to teach the basics of philosophy as it was taught at the time of the first great thinkers, such as Plato and his pupil Aristotle.
“We want to teach young people to think for themselves; we want to expose them to great works of art and intellect in a community that values freedom of thought and friendship; and we want to enable them to pass on the sacred flames of a free society and thriving culture to future generations,” Blackwood told the Savannah Morning News.
Blackwood said they are now hiring faculty members and already have relationships with professors at other universities.
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It is the sixth institution of higher learning in the city, joining Savannah Technical College, Savannah State University, Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong Campus, and South University.
Ralston College is a tax-exempt non-profit, which means it pays no property tax. This is common practice for nonprofit universities nationwide, but has drawn criticism in Savannah in recent years, as schools such as SCAD own dozens of plots in the National Historic District. valuable.
Monterey Square was once the hub of Armstrong Memorial Junior College, which was housed in what is now the Armstrong Kessler Mansion at the corner of Gaston and Bull streets, before moving as Armstrong Atlantic State University in the South Quarter from the city in 1966. Mercer House, the historic mansion restored by infamous antiques dealer Jim Williams (and the inspiration behind John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”), takes up a full city block on the square .
Blackwood said he was drawn to establishing a campus in Savannah because of its history and propensity to inspire. “Savannah is one of the most attractive cities in the country,” he said. “Its architectural and natural beauty makes it an inspiring context for learning.”
Blackwood added that he looks forward to the college “contributing to the life of this wonderful city in many ways,” but offered no concrete plans beyond the start of the fall term in 2022.
Zoe covers growth and its impact on communities in the Savannah area. Find her at [email protected], @zoenicholson_ on Twitter and @zoenicholsonreporter on Instagram.