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The LaCrosse Collegiate Institute was established in 1868 by Michael Shelby Kennard, under the name LaCrosse Male and Female Academy, in the community of LaCrosse (Izard County), which then boasted of five businesses, three churches, a Masonic hall, two physicians, and one druggist. A year later, Kennard changed the name of the school to the LaCrosse Collegiate Institute, which better described the curriculum offered to students. His son, writing in 1917, said that an average of 100 or more boarding students attended the institute yearly. According to an article in the Sharp County Record newspaper, the institute educated more than 3,000 young men and women, both local and boarding students, during its existence.
A native of Sumter County, Alabama, and a graduate of the University of Alabama, Kennard moved with his family to Batesville (Independence County), where his parents were living. He studied law and also was editor of the Independent Balance newspaper. After the Civil War, his talent for teaching and his reputation as an educator resulted in his being encouraged to move to Izard County for the purpose of opening a school.
The LaCrosse area was well-settled in a fertile plain, with cotton being the principal crop. Parents wanted a quality education for their children, which Kennard was eminently qualified to provide. He established the institute in 1868, and it immediately began affecting the local economy, with most families in town offering room and board for students whose parents resided elsewhere. The rate was $7–$10 per month, per student, with the average cost being $8.
After the school’s phenomenal growth—based entirely upon Kennard’s teaching, success rate, and reputation—incorporation papers were filed with the State of Arkansas in 1881, listing O. T. Watkins, W. B. Baird, R. P. Watson, W. H. Helm, O. T. Hunt, T. J. Woods, J. A. Holmes, R. H. Powell, and H. C. Tipton as the board of trustees. The school was never associated with a religious denomination, but its reputation was enhanced by several articles in the statewide Arkansas Gazette.
A tornado destroyed the institute and part of the village in 1883. The school was rebuilt and finished by February 1884. The two-story building featured a brick façade.
A brochure, dated 1885, announcing the sixteenth annual session of the LaCrosse Collegiate Institute, gave the rates of tuition: $2 per month for first primary, $2.50 for second primary, $3 for intermediate or common school, $4 for academic classes (high school), and $5 for collegiate classes, with an incidental fee of $0.50 per term. Kennard was principal, and Nellie K. Harris was in charge of the primary department. Academic classes taught by Kennard were higher arithmetic, algebra, physics, geography, and bookkeeping. Collegiate classes, again taught by Kennard, were natural sciences, higher mathematics, Latin, Greek, and French.
Financial difficulties forced Kennard to accept teaching positions in other towns. In 1870, he moved his family to Warren (Bradley County), though he came back to LaCrosse in 1876 to rejoin the LaCrosse Collegiate Institute. During subsequent years, Kennard accepted teaching positions in other towns—Smithville (Lawrence County), Newport (Jackson County), Evening Shade (Sharp County), and Mountain Home (Baxter County), where he taught at the Mountain Home Baptist College. He was not happy there and returned to LaCrosse in 1898.
There were only 112 pupils in the 1899–1900 school year, and even fewer the following year. Kennard’s declining health caused the LaCrosse Collegiate Institute to close its doors on June 1, 1901. He started to travel to Heber Springs (Cleburne County), seeking healing water for his health, but he only got as far as Batesville, where he died on July 7, 1901. Burial was in Oaklawn Cemetery in Batesville.
Few official records of the institute are extant. The Arkansas Centennial Commission, in 1936, erected a marker at LaCrosse to indicate the site of the LaCrosse Collegiate Institute. The building, neglected for many years, began to deteriorate. In the 1970s, the red bricks were removed from it and placed on a dwelling in Melbourne (Izard County). Students of the LaCrosse Collegiate Institute include James Lewis Dalton, inventor of the Dalton ten-key adding machine; W. E. McCloud, author of county history books; and Joseph G. Taylor, attorney, teacher, and Lawrence County official, among many others.
For additional information:Griffith, Nancy. “Michael Shelby Kennard.” Independence County Chronicle 38 (October 1996–January 1997): 33–52.
Kennard Papers. Regional Studies Center. Lyon College, Batesville, Arkansas.
Kennard, George P. “Michael Shelby Kennard.” Publications of the Arkansas Historical Association 4 (1917): 379–385.
“LaCrosse Collegiate Institute, Izard County, Arkansas.” Bits of Bark from the Family Tree 32 (March 2007): 30–32.
McGinnis, A. C. “M. Shelby Kennard and the Independent Balance.” Independence County Chronicle 15 (January 1974): 15–33.
“Prof. M. Shelby Kennard.” Sharp County Record, July 12, 1901, p. 3.
Mary Cooper MillerIzard County Historical Society
Last Updated 1/7/2013
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