The Toccoa Falls Story
Toccoa Falls College is a special place, marked by God, to be a demonstration to all of God’s purposes in building faith and dependence on him.
Context is everything. From social media posts to biblical interpretation and in day to day conversation we recognize that context is crucial to understanding. In the same way, to better appreciate an institution like Toccoa Falls College, to rightly understand its’ identity, it is necessary to understand its context… its’ history. Toccoa Falls is a special place. Visitors have been heard to say, “There is something different about this place,” or sometimes more specifically, “God is in this place.” While God obviously does not reside in a physical location (I Kings 8:27,29), he has marked this place in a special way that is evident for those with the eyes to see and ears to hear. How is this so?
Toccoa Falls is a place that God has chosen to teach his People the meaning of faith and trust, and by extension, for his People to share that lesson with all the peoples of the earth. In the Father’s order, that lesson is sometimes best learned through adversity. In the Old Testament Scriptures, the themes of fire and water are often used for testing, proving, cleansing, and purification (e.g. Numbers 21:23; Psalm 66; Isaiah 43). Fire burns. Water overwhelms. Adversity. Yet the result is a People of strong faith and loving trust in their Heavenly Father. In the New Testament, this experience of testing, proving, cleansing, and purification is borne out in our personal sanctification—the process of daily becoming more like our Lord Jesus until the day we see him face to face (I John 3:1-3; Romans 5:1-5; 8:29-30; 2 Corinthians 3:18; James 1:2-4). Character-building. Godly character-building. To be like Jesus.
But what does it mean to be like Jesus, for our character to be transformed to be like his? Ultimately Jesus’ character is revealed in his response to the Father in his moment of greatest adversity in the Garden—it is faith and trust in his Father’s plan and a loving submission to the Father in all circumstances. He is our model, our example, our forerunner (Matthew 26:42). We find this process worked out not only personally in our own experience, but in the life of this institution we call Toccoa Falls College. God has allowed the Toccoa Falls College family to experience adversity, to be tried by fire and water. At times our faith has been sorely tested. Yet the response of his People at Toccoa Falls has been one of trust, faith, and loving submission to the Father. And the result is a learning community that together shares our mission of cultivating godly character while preparing a family of graduates both personally and professionally for service.
Literature on Toccoa Falls History
- Achieving the Impossible With God: The Life Story of Dr. R. A. Forrest. By Lorene Moothart
- A Tree God Planted by Troy Damron
- Dam Break in Georgia: Sorrow and Joy at Toccoa Falls by K. Neill Foster & Eric Mills
Founder Dr. Richard Forrest
With only $10 to his name, Dr. Forest secured the land that developed into Toccoa Falls College…
“Such was the beginning of an institution in northeast Georgia, a Bible school that started with one building situated on one hundred acres of land, and that as gown to now over 1100 acres, a school whose influence has been felt not only nearby but to the ends of the earth. Surely God put His seal of approval on the transaction carried out that day, January 1, 1911.”
Chapter One, Achieving the Impossible With God: The Life Story of Dr. R. A. Forrest.
A.W. Tozer on Dr. Richard Forrest
“Dr. Forrest began on the proverbial shoestring and all that he has accomplished is by prayer and faith and hard work. Yet there is about him nothing of the martyr. After hearing about his struggles, his trials, his victories in prayer, one would expect to see a man lean and ascetic looking who rarely smiled and who took himself very seriously indeed. Imagine the surprise to find him a round-faced, almost jolly man who can laugh till the windows vibrate and whose whole bearing is relaxed and completely good-humored. And when he tells something of his early trials one gets the sly impression that he enjoyed his troubles. And if the whole truth be told, I think he did. Much might be said about this man, but I think that the most significant thing that may be said is that he lived so as to make God necessary to him. Extract God from R. A. Forrest and you have exactly nothing left. And that is perhaps the one great lesson his life teaches.
‘Not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ That is the real secret of his life. And a life like that is bound to be a success.”
Preface of Achieving the Impossible With God: The Life Story of Dr. R. A. Forrest.
A Dream in Flames
Tragedy first struck the new school on March 7, 1913, at 10:00 in the morning. Miss Staley, on the way down the hill from her house to Haddock Inn, glanced toward the Inn and was transfixed in horror—the roof of the building was a mass of flames. She hurried down the hill, calling all the time for somebody to come. In just a few minutes the entire building was engulfed in flames. From an eyewitness account of a faculty member: “While the building was yet burning, while the worldly goods and chattels of each were going up in flames, the little band of workers and students gathered at the foot of the Falls, and, with tears streaming down their cheeks, sang hymns of praise, read from His Word, and prayed to “Him who doeth all things well.” In the twinkling of an eye, everything had been taken, yet they were able to sing, “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.” This was a practical demonstration of Christianity. While the way has been hard, not one murmur has gone forth. Each one is looking upward, trusting his heavenly Father.“
Southern Greetings, Vol. 4, No. 4, February-March, 1913
As Rev. Forrest sat by a pile of smoldering rubble that had been his room, these prophetic words from Isaiah for the returning exiles, came forcibly and dramatically to his mind: “To provide for those who grieve in Zion, to bestow on them beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of despair; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3). He accepted this promise of “beauty for ashes” as being the divine application of the promises to his People for the immediate tragedy at Toccoa Falls. Days of adversity. Faith and trust in the Father’s promises to his People. And the College rebuillt.
Fast forward to 1977. During the early morning hours of November 6, 1977, after five days of almost continual rain, the earthen dam holding the Kelly Barnes Lake burst. One hundred and seventy-six million gallons of water surged through the lower campus in the space of only a few minutes. Tragedies, like the one that happened in the early morning hours on November 6, are difficult to discuss. They are even harder to write about. So many lives were lost. Thirty-nine of our college family were swept away with the flood waters.
The flood was the greatest tragedy the Toccoa Falls family had ever experienced. Yet once again the response of his People echoed a clear resemblance to the response of the Toccoa Falls family at the burning of Haddock Inn. They had been tried by fire and had survived. Now they were tried by flood and again they survived—but they would never be the same. God’s character was again revealed in the faithfulness and testimonies of his children. As one who experienced the flood explained, “We know that God was with us through the flood. He was with those who escaped. He was with the 39 people who died.
Because of the flood, we know that God will be with us through anything we ever have to face.” Psalm 66 was called to mind, “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver . . . we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”