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History of Covenant College

Our History

For more than 50 years, Covenant has pursued its mission to explore and express the preeminence of Jesus Christ in all things.


Early Growth

Founded in 1955 in Pasadena, California, Covenant College needed to expand into new facilities after just one year. Several professors helped Covenant move to St. Louis, Missouri, into a building donated by Catholic sisters. Over the next eight years, the institution increased in size and outgrew its facilities.


A Castle in the Clouds

The Lookout Mountain Hotel, built in 1928 with the South’s largest ballroom and 200 guest rooms, came up for sale when Covenant once again needed more space. The once-posh “Castle in the Clouds” seemed an ideal location for the College, and Covenant purchased and moved into the hotel in 1964. Since then, the College has significantly developed the campus and cultivated important ties with the Chattanooga community.


An Enduring Symbol

Serving as a symbol of Covenant’s history and purpose, the purple-flowered thistle was borrowed from Scotland’s national emblem. According to Scottish legend, the thistle played a vital role in victory at the Battle of Largs in 1262. Apparently, a barefoot invader unwittingly stepped on a thistle, howling in pain and notifying Scottish defenders of the attack from King Harco’s men. The Scots won the battle and credited the thistle.


Presidential Timeline

Six presidents have led Covenant in pursuing its mission since the College's founding in 1955.


  • Dr. Robert Rayburn (1955-1965)
  • Dr. Marion Barnes (1965-1978)
  • Dr. Martin Essenburg (1978-1987)
  • Dr. Frank Brock (1987-2002)
  • Dr. Niel Nielson (2002-2012)
  • Dr. Derek Halvorson (2012-present)


Frank and Dottie Brock

Frank and Dottie Brock reflect on their Lookout Mountain childhoods and discuss how Covenant's move to Lookout influenced area residents.

Marie Alston

Longtime friend of the college Marie Alston looks back on the day she and her late husband, Hugh Smith, toured the Lookout Mountain Hotel, and the hard work it took to transform the hotel into a liveable space for Covenant College.