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Bentonville College

On March 15, 1894, what was described as a “mass meeting” of new subscribers to Bentonville College met in the county judge’s room of the Benton County Courthouse. The total number present was not recorded, but subscribers were private citizens. Lodges and civic clubs contributed to the college fund as well. Fifteen men formed the board of trustees. With a quorum present at the March 15 meeting, presiding officer James A. Rice presented articles of association, which were adopted. A corporation was formed under the name “The Bentonville College,” and the trustees were instructed to establish and maintain for a period of ninety-nine years a non-sectarian school for both sexes. The trustees were also charged with contracting for land, constructing a building, and hiring a sufficient number of competent teachers. Plans for a building designed by W. E. Foley, an architect from Springfield, Missouri, were presented and accepted with modifications.

At the April 24, 1894, meeting of the trustees, firm construction plans were accepted. Approximately $6,500 was allocated for stone, brick, carpentry work, and painting, exclusive of furnishings and fencing. The city purchased a windmill, and the board paid for the cistern and pump. James Haney’s construction bid was awarded for $6,358.70. Six acres at the southern end of Main Street were purchased for the campus. The main building—containing bathrooms, a basement, six recitation rooms, a music hall, and a large chapel—was finished by September 17, 1895, when the dedication ceremonies took place. Tuition was fixed in 1896 at a monthly rate of $1.50 for primary, $2.50 for intermediate, $3.50 for first collegiate, and $4.00 for second collegiate.

Professor M. F. Croxdale was president for one term. Then, in June 1897, two women, Gray Taylor and Alice Read, leased the building and furnishings for three years, promising to make many needed repairs. Taylor and Read stated that they would establish fiscal security and maintain a good faculty. The primary department was dropped to strengthen the collegiate departments. Hay from the property was sold to buy lumber. The building’s public spaces could be rented for entertainments. In 1897, there were 105 tuition-paying students. The courses of study included music, art, history of Greece and Rome, “Critical Review of Noted Scientists,” mathematics, and elocution.

However, as the board secretary’s ledger records show, the school’s financial situation deteriorated. Turnover in board membership was common by 1900 when Gray and a Professor Hamm proposed to lease the school and build a dormitory. The dormitory was appealing, but at the same time trustees began to discuss leasing the school to an evangelical denomination. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was mentioned as a possibility. In March 1901, the Arkansas Baptist Convention offered to take the school and run it as part of the Ouachita System of Colleges and Academies. The trustees first turned down the offer but finally accepted the transfer, with the provision that the building would be used only for a school. The last note in the secretary’s ledger reads, “Prof Hamm agrees to give possession 1st June, 1901 to the Baptist people.”

Bentonville College lasted for six years (1895–1901). The Bentonville Ouachita Academy built the dormitory and operated the school until sometime between 1908 and 1914. The 1914 Sanborn maps for Bentonville (Benton County) label the buildings as the Bentonville High School, and they remained as the high school until 1929–30, when an impressive new Bentonville High School was built on 2nd Street—today the Old High Middle School. The grounds of what was once Bentonville College then served as the home of the Benton County Fair for more than seventy years.

For additional information:
Bentonville College Record Book and Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1894–1901. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“Mass Meeting of the Subscribers to the Bentonville College.” Benton County Pioneer 35 (Winter 1990–1991): 100–106.

“More Notes on Bentonville College.” Benton County Pioneer 3(September 1958): 13.

Seamster, Alvin. “Bentonville College.” Benton County Pioneer 3 (July 1958): 1.

Ellen Compton
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Last Updated 1/18/2012

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