A campus is born.

Before 1963, there were no institutions of higher education in the northwestern/northcentral region of Pennsylvania. Young people left the area to further their education and often did not return. Adults did not have a resource for continuing their own education. The local economy paid the price for this lack of a more educated work force.

Students walking

The 60s

In 1962, Raymond N. Zoerkler, a Bradford geologist with the Hanley and Bird Company, saw a need for an educational resource and came up with an idea. Supported by Robert Cole, Bradford Hospital's chief administrator, and others, Zoerkler wrote a letter to Edward H. Litchfield, who was then chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. Zoerkler proposed that Pitt establish a campus to serve this area of Pennsylvania.

On October 16, 1962, Chancellor Litchfield announced that there indeed was a need for accessible quality education in the region. A new Pitt campus was born. Litchfield appointed a committee of community leaders to serve as the advisory board for the new Pitt campus in Bradford. He named Dr. Donald E. Swarts, dean of Pitt-Johnstown, as the first president. J.B. Fisher, president of Kendall Refining, was named the first chairman of the Advisory Board. Swarts immediately began to work with the local Advisory Board to open the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

During the summer of 1963, Swarts and the board organized a faculty and bought Hamsher House, a building owned by Bradford Hospital. They renovated the building into classrooms, laboratories, a library and student lounges. On September 3, 1963 - less than a year after Chancellor Litchfield's momentous announcement - the doors opened to Pitt-Bradford's first class of students. This class had a mix of young men and women from all over Pennsylvania, as well as from New Jersey, New York and other states.

The newly established campus was a two-year college that offered the beginning of a Pitt undergraduate education. It offered starter and transfer programs to 143 full-time and 145 part-time students.

The new college was launched with the generous financial support of the region. Individuals and organizations in Bradford and surrounding regions contributed $758,000 that year. That enabled the college to start strong and become firmly rooted in Bradford.

By 1964, the student body had grown to 380 full-time and 100 part-time students. Dr. Swarts believed that the Pitt-Bradford experience would be enriched by having both commuter and resident students, so the college purchased the 125-room Emery Hotel located in downtown Bradford for student housing.

On April 18, 1967, J.B. Fisher announced that Witco-Kendall Corporation would donate approximately 78 acres of land on the site of the former Harri Emery Airport in order to build a campus. At the same time, the City of Bradford and Bradford Township jointly announced they would make a 33-acre parcel of adjacent land, known as the Onofrio tract, available to Pitt-Bradford to develop a recreation area. This attractive setting, just outside of the city, became the site for today's modern campus.

University of Pittsburgh officials made a strong commitment to its new campus. They brought quality faculty to the region. They established a substantive library collection. And, they stated quality programs so students would be successful when they transferred in two years. These were the building blocks that made the foundation for today's four-year institution.

The 70s & 80s

In the early 1970s, Pitt-Bradford set its sights on building a new campus and moving its academic focus from two-year to four-year programming. The college used $1.5 million in regional private monies it was able to raise to "seed" nearly $14 million worth of capital projects. They built two academic buildings: Swarts Hall and Fisher Hall. Other capital improvements included a residence hall complex, a sports center, outdoor recreational and athletic fields, and a student union. Hanley Library was the last building to complete the campus at this time. The library opened in March 1988.

While the new physical plant was emerging, Pitt-Bradford, under the leadership of then-college president Dr. Richard E. McDowell, fulfilled another important goal: to offer four-year degrees. The first degree program came in 1975 with an associate of science degree in petroleum technology. Four years later, Pitt-Bradford began conferring four-year degrees after the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees and the Pennsylvania Department of Education granted Pitt-Bradford baccalaureate degree-granting status.

Due in large part to a Title III grant, Pitt-Bradford added a significant number of bachelor-level programs beginning in 1985: biology, computer science, geology, history/political science, chemistry, economics, psychology, mathematics and communication.

The 90s

Significant campus upgrades were made in both new buildings and academic programming.  These included two new student residence halls, a laundry and security building, and extensive renovations to Fisher Hall.

In 1994, the college revised its general education program. Pitt-Bradford joined only a small number of other similar institutions in providing a quality education with a liberal arts foundation to students in a public setting. Because of its location in northwestern Pennsylvania, the university also has a parallel mission to serve the needs of the region. Consequently, Pitt-Bradford also offers professional programs such as business management, sports medicine, and nursing. However, the general education curriculum is the required foundation for all programs.

During the middle of 1995, Pitt-Bradford announced its plans for the future. Plan 2000, coupled with the Facilities Master Plan, acted as the college’s guide into the next century. The plans, devised with an architectural firm from Pittsburgh, used a “residential” approach for future campus growth. This style allows the campus to keep the natural beauty of its valley setting while focusing on functional accessibility for students to all aspects of living and learning on campus.

Campus expansion and growth got a boost in 1995 when the college announced the success of Campaign 2000. More than $10 million was raised during the campaign, exceeding its goal by more than 25 percent. A major factor in surpassing the goal was the Blaisdell family of Bradford, owners of Zippo Manufacturing Company. Their dollar-for-dollar matching gift program for Blaisdell Hall, the college’s fine arts and communication arts building project, accounted for nearly $3.5 million.

2000 & Beyond

In June 2002, Dr. Richard E. McDowell, who had been president since 1973 and helped Pitt-Bradford advance from a fledging two-year institution to a thriving four-year university, stepped down as president. Three months later, the university dedicated the newly renovated and expanded Sport and Fitness Center, a project McDowell helped to see to fruition. The building features a new performance arena, the newly named McDowell Fieldhouse, a pool, a fitness center, sports medicine classrooms, a human performance lab and an athletic training room.

In April of the following year, Dr Livingston Alexander, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Kean University in New Jersey, was named Pitt-Bradford’s third president. Dr. Alexander officially resumed the presidency on Aug. 1.

Two months later, the campus community and the surrounding community dedicated the newly renovated and expanded Frame-Westerberg Commons building and the academic portion of Blaisdell Hall, the university’s fine arts and communication arts building.

The new Commons includes an enlarged Panther Shop, which features an after-hours convenience store; a dining room with a 9,482 square-foot addition; a new Commons Café; an expanded Mail Center; a new game room; and many more meeting rooms on both floors.

The first phase of Blaisdell Hall features two all-digital radio and television studios, a computer graphic arts lab, two art studios, a music rehearsal hall, a state-of-the-art music classroom, one high-tech classroom, three music practice rooms, a music listening library and two seminar/conference rooms.

The following year, the second phase of Blaisdell Hall, which includes the 500-seat Bromeley Family Theater and the KOA Speer Art Gallery, was dedicated in a lavish ceremony. During the dedication, Marilyn Horne, internationally known opera star, Bradford native and supporter of Pitt-Bradford, received an honorary degree from the University of Pittsburgh, which was presented by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg in appreciation for her steadfast support of the university.

In 2005 and 2006, the university saw more growth. Its physical plant grew with the addition of Reed-Coit House, a 103-bed residence hall, and the Seneca Building in downtown Bradford, which enabled Pitt-Bradford to return to the downtown economic and social scene for the first time since 1975. The building housed offices, classroom space, and the headquarters for the Office of Economic and Community Development. Additionally, American Refining Group donated 130 acres of land to the university. Pitt-Bradford also saw significant growth to its complement of academic programs with the addition of several new majors, including entrepreneurship, interdisciplinary arts, hospitality management, accounting, and health and physical education. Those new programs bring the university’s number of majors to 41. Pitt-Bradford also offers more than 40 minors, concentrations and pre-professional programs.

In March 2006, the university celebrated the successful conclusion of the Complete the Campus campaign, whose $13 million goal was surpassed. The purpose of the campaign is to support facilities, technology, scholarships and academics.

In 2007, the complement of academic programs increased again with the resurrection of the petroleum technology associate degree program to help meet the needs of the state's oil and gas upswing.

Several exciting initiatives came to pass the following year. The Crime Scene Investigation House opened on campus, giving criminal justice students the chance to get valuable hands-on experience while investigating "mock" crimes, and the American Refining Group/Harry R. Halloran Jr. Energy Institute was developed, a partnership between the university and ARG to give faculty and students a center where they could explore and research energy-related issues. In August of that year, the Howard L. Fesenmyer House residence hall was opened as was a newly renovated Swarts Hall.   

In 2010, students had another residence hall to choose from when the Sarah B. Dorn House opened, and science students were able to conduct their experiments in newly expanded and renovated labs in Fisher Hall. On the other end of campus, members of the campus and surrounding communities dedicated the Harriett B. Wick Chapel. The university was making other advancements well. The Admissions Office received the Chancellor's Affirmative Action Award for its work in increasing minority student enrollment, and a new partnership with Heilbronn University in Germany gave students additional study-abroad opportunities.

On March 23, 2012, the 50 and Beyond capital campaign entered the public phase with a goal of raising $17.5 million to support academic programs, scholarships and capital projects. Two months later, officials in Pittsburgh announced that, as a cost-cutting measure, Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Titusville would share a common administration under the leadership of Pitt-Bradford's president, Dr. Livingston Alexander. Just before the summer started, a study was released by Pitt's Center for Social and Urban Research that detailed the university's impact in the region: Pitt-Bradford generated $67.5 million worth of economic activity and created or supported 740 full-time-equivalent jobs. Enrollment figures that September also showed that the university was having an impact internationally as well. A record 46 international students were enrolled that fall.    

Shortly after the arrival of 2013, Pitt-Bradford got a nice surprise. The college research website TheBestColleges named Pitt-Bradford one of the 10 best regional campuses in the United States, placing Pitt-Bradford in some pretty distinguished company, including Carnegie Mellon University, Silicon Valley, Texas A&M University at Galveston, and Tufts European Center. As 2013 continued, several new programs were added: new majors in general studies and energy science and technology, and new minors in women's studies, criminal forensic studies and legal studies. Additionally, the Sport and Fitness Center was renamed the Richard E. and Ruth McDowell Sport and Fitness Center to honor Pitt-Bradford's second president and his wife.

As 2013 continues, many people on campus are planning for Pitt-Bradford's 50th anniversary, which will include a Founders' Day celebration on Sept. 3, exactly 50 years after the first day of classes were held; the 50th Anniversary Alumni and Family Weekend on Oct. 4-6, and a 50th Anniversary Gala on Oct. 4, which will benefit the Marilyn Horne archive project.

Thanks to the vision of those early supporters in the 1960s, the generosity of the many donors and friends over the past 50 years, the hard work of the faculty and staff, and the successful collaborations with officials on the Oakland campus, Pitt-Bradford has grown significantly. Today Pitt-Bradford has nearly 1,600 students and about 10,000 alumni, from every state in the United States and several countries. The campus, which was once the Harri Emery Airport, encompasses 319 acres and includes more than 40 buildings. Its academic programs have grown to 37 bachelor's degrees and five associate degrees, and its has 15 athletic programs, just recently adding women's bowling.    

Despite its significant growth in 50 years, one thing won't change: Pitt-Bradford will remain a friendly, safe campus where students can earn a world-renowned degree in a personalized environment.