The Richmond Register

October 30, 2012

Eastern and its predecessor, Central University

By Fred Engle
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — In the first 11 years of producing graduates, some 771 degrees were granted at Eastern. In 1926 the graduating class was 41 percent men and 59 women. By 1935, men made up 49% of the graduates, and women made up 51 percent.

Commemorative plaques of various kinds have been placed around campus to denote gifts from alumni. There were 14 plaques set up by classes from 1931 to 1935. Do all of them still exist? Can you find them?

Richmond might not have been located in Richmond had not its predecessor, Central University, been located here. Central was a Southern Presbyterian school which existed in Richmond from 1874 to 1906. Back in 1934, Dr. J.T. Dorris, a member of Eastern’s faculty, wrote a history of this school for the Kentucky Historical Society Register. Some 50 years later, I published a detailed history of the Central University in that same publication. 

So in 1904 and 1905, when state legislators were considering the most efficient places in the state to create two normal (teacher training) schools — there was a ready-made campus available in Richmond. Today, only the University Building and the university president’s home (Blanton House) remain from the original Central University campus. Bowling Green had a similar situation, hence, Normal School Number Two, or Western Kentucky University, as it is now known, was located there.

Many distinguished individuals graduated from Central University, traveling from many towns in Kentucky and around the south to attend school in Richmond.

There was a very strong tie between Central University and the First Presbyterian Church of Richmond. Eventually the Southern Presbyterians, who had set up the school in the aftermath of the religious schism between Presbyterian factions in Kentucky caused by the Civil war, ran out of funds. In 1901, they moved their operations to Danville, and gradually merged into Centre College, a Northern Presbyterian school.

Walters Collegiate Institute, a high school with a college preparatory curriculum, occupied the buildings of the old Central University from 1901 until 1906. Eastern began in 1906.  Interestingly, Model Laboratory School, actually predates Eastern by a number of months. 

A southern influence, always strong in central Kentucky, was evident in the Southern Presbyterian school that existed in Richmond until 1901.

Symbolically the “lost cause,” as personified by Confederate General Kirby Smith and represented by Central University, finally departed Richmond, and a new era of higher education began. Eastern’s Maroons eventually became Colonels, but the ghosts of past generals are long gone now. These too are a part of Madison’s heritage.

PUBLICATION NOTE:  Readers are reminded that a compilation of some 60 Richmond Register articles from over the last 40 years written by Dr. Grise and myself are now available in the paperback book “Madison’s Heritage Rediscovered.”

Combined with relevant photographs selected from Eastern’s Archives by my granddaughter, Kathryn Engle, who edited the volume, this book is available for $19.99 plus tax. Autographed copies may be found at the Richmond tourism office (Irvinton) on Lancaster Avenue, Clearsight Optometry and Baldwin CPAs on Main Street in Richmond. 

Autographed copies are also available by calling Kathryn Engle at 859-893-0947 or 623 1150. These books make excellent birthday or Christmas gifts for family or friends.