Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905 (vol. 5)


Plans to Rebuild

Plans were quickly drawn. Building concerns were consulted. Bids were called for. A special meeting of the General Conference Committee was called, and approval was given to the general plan for the rebuilding of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. One special point was the prospect of financial relief in Dr. Kellogg's proposal of giving a book manuscript to help raise money. The General Conference Committee considered it a “grand proposition.” The doctor proposed 400,000 copies as a gift. 5BIO 152.5

On March 25, Elder A. G. Daniells reported this and other developments in a letter to W. C. White. Between $80,000 and $90,000 had been subscribed in the city of Battle Creek toward a new sanitarium; this, along with the insurance money, amounting to $154,000, would provide a “fair sum with which to erect a new building.” 5BIO 153.1

We have accepted plans submitted by an Ohio architect. They are plain but dignified. We propose to erect an absolutely fireproof building, and to pay the cash for everything. We suppose that when it is finished, furnished, and fully equipped for business, the cost will be between $250,000 and $300,000. But the board is determined that no debt shall be incurred by the erection of this building.—DF 45a, AGD to WCW, March 25, 1902. 5BIO 153.2

Another matter Elder Daniells discussed in this letter was the attitude of the city toward the Sanitarium. During the past three years they had levied taxes on the institution that they now agreed to return. This would give them $15,000. They promised to remit all taxes thereafter. So, Elder Daniells wrote: 5BIO 153.3

Under all the circumstances we all feel that we cannot consistently take the Sanitarium away from Battle Creek, and have decided to rebuild here.— Ibid. 5BIO 153.4

Even the assurances of a modest building and of a debt-free building program did not put Ellen White's mind at ease. On the last night of April a vision was given to her concerning the rebuilding of the Sanitarium, and she wrote in a letter addressed to Dr. Kellogg: 5BIO 153.5

I have been given a message for you. You have had many cautions and warnings, which I sincerely hope and pray you will consider. Last night I was instructed to tell you that the great display you are making in Battle Creek is not after God's order. You are planning to build in Battle Creek a larger sanitarium than should be erected there. There are other parts of the Lord's vineyard in which buildings are greatly needed.... 5BIO 153.6

Battle Creek is not to be made a Jerusalem. There are calls for means to establish memorials for God in cities nigh and afar off. Do not erect an immense institution in Battle Creek which will make it necessary for you to draw upon our people for means. Such a building might far better be divided, and plants made in many places. Over and over again this has been presented to me.—Letter 125, 1902. 5BIO 154.1

In this same vein a week later she wrote to Dr. Kellogg's close friend, Percy T. Magan, now at Berrien Springs: 5BIO 154.2

It is not wise to erect mammoth institutions. The Battle Creek Sanitarium was altogether too large. I have been shown that it is not by the largeness of an institution that the greatest work for souls is to be accomplished. A mammoth sanitarium requires a great many workers. But it is difficult, where so many workers are brought together, to maintain the standard of spirituality that should be maintained in the Lord's institutions.... 5BIO 154.3

If that institution had been situated in the country, where it could have been surrounded by gardens and orchards, where the sick could have looked upon the beautiful things of nature—the flowers of the field, and the fruit trees, laden with their rich treasures—how much more good would have been accomplished!—Letter 71, 1902. 5BIO 154.4

In the months that followed, she wrote much more along these lines to those who were carrying responsibilities in Battle Creek, both in the Sanitarium and in the General Conference. 5BIO 154.5

With the plans drawn and accepted and the bids let, the next step was the laying of the cornerstone. Sunday afternoon, May 11, 1902, some ten thousand people gathered for the elaborate ceremonies, with guest speakers from the Government and the clergy from the city. Sanitarium employees were seated back of the speakers’ stand, and Sanitarium guests and citizens seated in front. W. W. Prescott led out in the main address of the afternoon. The cornerstone was appropriately laid by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg himself. In his address he reminded helpers, guests, and townspeople of the principles upon which the institution stood. He referred back to its history—a history he had often connected with God's providential guidance through the light given to Mrs. White. He declared: 5BIO 154.6

It is certainly no discredit to those who founded this institution thirty-six years ago that, in this new founding, this cornerstone laying, marking the beginning of a new era in the history of this work, it is not necessary to introduce any new principle nor to discard or repudiate any principle which has been heretofore recognized.... The little light kindled here on this hilltop a third of a century ago has never gone out, but has burned brightly, and yet more brightly, as the years have passed, and this day shines out even from the midst of these shapeless piles of brick and stone with a brighter luster than ever before, and not from here only, but from a hundred hilltops scattered throughout the civilized world.—The Review and Herald, May 20, 1902. 5BIO 155.1

He was to liken this new institution to the Temple city Jerusalem, to which the ancient Israelites looked from all over the world. In passing, we note that an element of pantheism appeared in this address, representing a philosophy he firmly held in his heart, the perils of which had not yet been seen by his associates. 5BIO 155.2

With the work well under way, Dr. Kellogg was soon off to Europe with A. G. Daniells to attend the European General Conference. This together with the doctor's endeavors to establish a medical institution in England kept him overseas until mid-August. It was in connection with this enterprise that a rift developed between John Harvey Kellogg and Arthur G. Daniells that was to widen and deepen. It was sparked by differences in financial policies, of which note will be taken shortly. 5BIO 155.3

The decade of the 1890s was a period of institutional expansion. Two new colleges had been started—Union College and Walla Walla. Dr. Kellogg had forged ahead, encouraging the establishment of a number of medical institutions in the United States and one in Mexico, the first medical interest of the church to be established outside the United States. For all of these, money for the capital investment was borrowed and then the General Conference Association was persuaded to assume the obligations. 5BIO 155.4

Kellogg was an energetic, forceful, persuasive man, and somehow the General Conference leaders through the middle 1890s found it difficult to resist his insistence of such financing. Of one such church leader Ellen White wrote: “To Elder--- was given plainly stated instruction as to how the Lord regarded such matters, but he had not the courage to say, ‘I cannot betray sacred trusts.’”—Manuscript 144, 1902. 5BIO 155.5

Debts piled on debts—debts assumed with no systematic plan for their amortization. This was reflected in the sad situation of the Battle Creek Sanitarium at the time of the fire. Even though they had been operating for thirty-five years, they had outstanding notes of $250,000. The Boulder Sanitarium, opened in 1893, was heavily in debt. It was overbuilt at the outset and was then plagued by poor business management. Even with a good patronage no appreciable progress was being made in the reduction of its debt load. Other newly established sanitariums were in much the same shape. 5BIO 156.1

When Elder Daniells assumed responsibilities as leader of the church, following the General Conference of 1901, he was appalled to find that the total institutional indebtedness was close to $500,000. In the context of the times, this was a huge sum. The top pay of ministers, physicians, and publishing-house employees at this time was from $12 to $15 a week (DF 243d). 5BIO 156.2