The college was originally founded by the United Brethren Church in 1860. The college was first known as the Roanoke Classical Seminary and was located in the small village of Roanoke in Huntington County, Indiana (about 20 miles east of North Manchester). The institution achieved a high reputation in northern Indiana; Roanoke was referred to as the “Athens of Indiana” due to the influence of the seminary.
By 1889, the institution sought a different location for their campus. Professor D. N. Howe, representing RCS, came to North Manchester to preach at a United Brethren Church that same year. Howe felt that the town would be suitable for the growing seminary and proposed at a public meeting during his visit that RCS would relocate to North Manchester if $8,000 could be donated to begin construction. Citizens enthusiastically agreed to the proposal during the meeting and beat out bids from competing towns like Huntington and Columbia City. The seminary became Manchester College in 1889 with Professor Howe as president. Baumgerdner Hall (now part of the current campus’ Administration Building) was the first building on the campus.