The first Bridgewater College students were the students of the Spring Creek Normal School. Founded in Spring Creek, Virginia, by Daniel C. Flory, the school was rooted in the Church of the Brethren with all learners welcome. There were five male students and one female student when the school first opened for a regular term in September 1880. As more students enrolled, the 1880-81 session grew to four women and twenty-five men. The first students were from the surrounding counties of Virginia and from West Virginia.
By September of 1882 the school was moved four miles east to Bridgewater, Virginia, and bore the name Virginia Normal School. After some time in rented quarters, funds were raised to buy land in the spring of 1883 and begin building a permanent campus that summer. Enrollment grew during most sessions of the Virginia Normal School, with students coming from twenty Virginia counties and eight states. 160 students were enrolled in the 1888-1889 session.
The first graduates of Bridgewater College are considered to be Daniel B. Garber, Kittie Danner and William K. Franklin. The two men and one woman received their Bachelors of English degree in June 1886.[p>
Bridgewater College gained its current name in July 1889. The name change was partly inspired by the number of students taking the “Classical course” for a B.A., degree, which was different than the early “normal” or public education teacher focus. The College first conferred the B.A. degree in May, 1891.
Not all early Bridgewater College students graduated with a B.A. or B.E. degree. The College operated several courses and schools, some administered by their own management and with their own faculty. These included the Bridgewater Business College (The Commercial Department), a Music Department, a Bible Department and an Art Department. A two-year college preparatory Bridgewater Academy was also a separate school as was a Primary Department, which educated local children and children of the faculty from 1886 - 1913. Finally, the College offered a teacher’s “normal” or training class each summer and held an annual Bible Term.