Frenchburg Presbyterian College
The Frenchburg Presbyterian College in Frenchburg, Kentucky was a mission-based educational and healthcare facility operated by the United Presbyterian Church, and served as the only high school in the area for many years and as the only hospital between Lexington and Ashland for a period of time.
Historically, Protestant religious denominations provided educational services in underserved regions of the mountainous and isolated Appalachian Mountains.(6) After the Civil War had concluded, both the United Presbyterian and the Presbyterian church were active in eastern Kentucky. One of the advocates for this was Dr. Edward Owings Guerrant, a physician and preacher who recommended a school be built in Frenchburg.(6.2) In 1908, a committee was sent from the Women’s General Missionary Society of the United Presbyterian Church of North America to examine the area and found that Menifee County and Frenchburg was unable to maintain a public high school even though it was required by state law, and only maintained its rural schools for six months of the year. Most students were only able to finish the first five grades.(5)(6)
The first school in Frenchburg consisted of a one-room log school that soon became overflowing with children, some seated two or three to a desk. There were a half dozen books per 50 children, and there was inadequate sanitation and teaching materials.(1)
After consideration, the church opted to locate a school and church in the town on a five-acre plot.(5) Local citizens donated money and labor in developing the facility, and the West Lexington Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church deeded to the Women’s Board a small frame church house which had been abandoned several years prior.
In October 1909, the church was repaired and made suitable for a day school and as a house of worship, educating twenty.(2) It featured a public reading room and had a yard for basketball and other athletics.(5) It was a private institution and students were required to either pay tuition or be enrolled in a work-study program. Students were also required to study the Bible at least two hours per week.(2) Miss Bertha Houston was the pioneer teacher and missionary for nine years, laying the foundation for the church and school.(5)
A farm of sixty acres with some hillside was soon purchased.(5) In 1910, a two-story brick building was constructed to serve as the school building and a residence for the teachers financed through the Women’s Missionary Thank Offering. The building was ready for occupancy on September 19 and offered eight elementary grades of learning. On October 29, the college was formally dedicated with Miss Houston as superintendent and the number of faculty was increased to eight. Enrollment in the first year was 167, which increased to 180 and 189 in the subsequent two years.
Beginning in January 1911, a special class for county teachers was offered so that they could quality for the state teaching certificate. High school students who qualified were given a year of paid post-secondary tuition as well.(5)
In 1914, the first class was ready to graduate.(5)(6) A committee of five Frenchburg businesses and professional men made elaborate plans for the first commencement. A tent was pitched on the campus for the festivities, and there were picnics and other activities throughout the day.
In 1915, the Jane Cook Hospital was established that featured ten beds and one operating room.(6)(6.3) It was named after the Secretary of the Woman’s Missionary Board of the Presbyterian Church and was the only hospital between Lexington and Ashland at the time of its opening.
For three years, the students had been living in the high school building and in a small white cottage at the eastern end of the campus.(5) Living quarters were becoming increasingly crowded. As a result, in 1917, a three story brick dormitory with space to accommodate 70 students was constructed in memory of Elizabeth Brown, named the Elizabeth Brown Dormitory. The males relocated from the basement of the high school to the third floor of the new building. The females were given the second floor. The first floor was a recreation room, dining room, kitchen matron’s quarters and as administrative offices. Rooms that had been occupied by the teaching staff were remodeled to provide a library, classrooms and a room for the new home economic course. Some of the teachers were occupying rooms in the dorm, however, dormitory space became a critical issue as enrollment continued to increase.
During this time, a Mountain Industries project was initiated to help the people sell their hand crafts in order to have money to send their children to the Presbyterian school.(5) Homespun, home-dyed and home-woven quilts with patterns such as the Star of the East, Rose in the Garden, Double Wedding Ring, Isle of Patmos and their rugs, chairs and baskets were sold throughout the denomination. Church friends sent boxes and barrels of clothing for these people. The old school district building across Beaver Creek became the store room where the clothing was offered for a nominal price.
In 1918, the church constructed and assumed responsibility for a small hospital, which was located on the high school campus.(3)
The need for a residence hall for the teachers was badly needed by the latter part of the 1910s.(5) Funds from the New World Movement of the United Presbyterian Church became available and during the summer of 1921, a building known as the Teacher’s Home was constructed. The first floor had twp apartments of five rooms each for the superintendent and principal. The second floor had nine rooms for the women teachers plus a guest room, living room and small kitchen.
In 1924, additional land was purchased to augment the farm to 170 acres. A cottage on the property was remodeled and a dairy barn and other buildings were constructed. The farm became a model for improved methods of agriculture and dairying, as well as providing work for the boys in the dorm. The Hunting Memorial Shop was constructed to provide training in wood and iron work.(5)
During the spring of 1927, the “Reporter” – school newspaper, made its first appearance.(5) The name was later changed to “The Frenchburg Reporter” and was known as “A Voice from the Mountain Schools of the W.G.M.S.” Twp years after the newspaper was started, the Board granted aid for the building of a gymnasium. Named the Shear Gymnasium and Auditorium, it was used for social gatherings, dramatics and public entertainments, as well as a gymnasium.
By 1929, conditions had become crowded in the Elizabeth Brown dormitory. A lot and frame house next to the school farm was purchased and the male students moved to these new quarters.(5) During the Depression, the school continued to foster, adding extra curricular activities and a school lunch program. The campus was also beautified.
On January 23, 1940, a fire consumed the hospital and all of its supplies. Menifee County was without a hospital for two years, when a larger hospital was constructed and opened on March 2, 1942.(4)(6) The school farm was sold in 1941 because there were few students in the dormitory to carry on daily farm and dairy chores due to World War II.(5)
In 1948, a new grade school was built.(5) For several years prior, a temporary building served as the home for sixth through eighth grades. The school enrollment increased so much that the high school needed all the facilities of the old school building. In January 1949, the elementary school moved into the new building.
In May 1957, education work at the Frenchburg school was terminated by Presbyterian Church officials after serving 500 students and 30 staff.(5)(6) In 1967, discussions were held to close to the Jane Cook Hospital due to escalating costs and the inability to secure a government loan for a nursing home that would have qualified for Medicare.(6) On December 31, the hospital closed. The building was then leased by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and reused for five years as a Boy’s Rehabilitation Center by the Kentucky Department of Child Welfare.
The campus, as of 1971, consisted of:
- Girl’s Dormitory: Constructed around 1917, the three-story Georgian Revival building featured a two-story mid-1940s addition.(6)
- Gymnasium: Erected in 1929, the one-story weatherboarded building was built upon a typical concrete foundation.(6)
- Jane Cook Hospital: Built in 1941, the structure replaced the original 1915 building that had been destroyed by a fire in 1940.(6) The building consisted of two sections with Neo-Georgian characteristics.
- Manual Training Shop: Erected in 1926, the 1.5-story frame structure featured an attached garage.(6)
- School Building: Built in 1910, the two-story brick building.(6)
- Teacher’s Residence: Constructed in 1921, the 2.5-story brick building featured two-story portico.(6)
- 1910: Principal (superintendent) was Rev. Brainerd Jamison.
- 1911: Rev. Jamison resigned to complete his preparation for service in the foreign field. Dr. Albert G. Weidler was appointed.
- 1918-1923: Rev. W. J. Griffen was superintendent and increased faculty and hired principal to assist the work load of the school.
- After his resignation, Rev. H. Ray Shear was superintendent.
- 1941: Mr. Harry L. Cowden became superintendent until 1946.
- Mr. Stevens served briefly and then Mr. Roy Anderson was appointed in September 1947.
- Rev. Arthur Gathman was appointed in Jan. 1948. Resigned in 1956.
- Mr. Adrian Wells was appointed and served until closure.
- “Education.” Menefee County Centennial Pictorial Review, 1869-1969. Frenchburg: n.p., 1969. 6.
- Ingram, Barbara Wells. The History of Menifee County Kentucky. 1986: 18.
- Menefee County Centennial. Pictorial Review. Frenchburg, Kentucky: 5.
- Menefee County Centennial. Pictorial Review. Frenchburg, Kentucky: 13.
- “Frenchburg School… nestled in the hills and mountaos of our beautiful Kentucky.” Menifee County Journal (Frenchburg) 10 Apr. 1974, Bicentennial Edition ed.: 13.
- United States. Dept. of the Interior. Frenchburg School Campus. Comp. Calvin P. Jones, Sr. Washington: National Park Service, Sept. 1978. Web. 26 Aug. 2013. Article.
- “Frenchburg School.” Menifee County Journal [Frenchburg] n.d.: n.p. Print.
- McAllister, J. Gray. Edward O. Guerrant; Apostle to the Southern Highlanders. Richmond: Richmond Press, 1950. Print.
- Green, Howard. “Effort Afoot to Reopen Menifee Hospital Facility.” Herald-Leader [Lexington] 17 Mar. 1968: 31. Print.