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Ten-acre lot held Richmond College, high school, war headquarters

Richmond College, built in 1856 and opened for students September of that year. From 1862 through 1865, “large bodies of troops occupied the building at different times.”  (Postcard courtesy of Linda Emley)

Richmond College, built in 1856 and opened for students September of that year. From 1862 through 1865, “large bodies of troops occupied the building at different times.” (Postcard courtesy of Linda Emley)

By Linda Emley

In a few weeks, the children of Ray County will be heading off to a new school year so I’m sharing some of the stories of school days from our past.

The buildings pictured in the postcards stood on College Hill behind the high school that was torn down in 2004. The school with the steeple was Richmond College, which opened in 1856. In 1905, the other building shown was added as the high school and the college building became the grade school. Richmond College stood in the middle of the 10-acre lot and the high school building was built on the south end facing Royle Street.

Levan Thurman is the only person I found who went to all three schools on College Hill. He had two years of grade school in the south building, when it was the Central Ward. He went to seventh and eighth grade in the Richmond College building, which was the middle building. And, like many of us, he attended high school in the building, which was the northern building on the hill.

Miss Ethel Kirkpatrick graduated from the Richmond College building in 1903. She had the privilege of teaching at both the other buildings on their opening days. Her first day of teaching was at the high school that opened in 1905 and her last day of teaching was in the high school that was torn down in 2004.

The following is a brief history of Richmond College. In 1851, the Presbyterian Church of Missouri wanted to establish a college and four towns were chosen: Booneville, Richmond, Fulton and St. Charles. A group of Ray County citizens presented an offer of $15,000 and 10 acres. Gov. Austin King and other prominent citizens supported Richmond, but Fulton won and Westminster College was formed.

Richmond made a separate deal with the Presbytery of Upper Missouri to establish a college on the endowment plan from scholarships. The building was near completion so the lower stories were used and Richmond College opened in September 1856. After two years, the endowment plan was not working and debt was accumulating. A local man stepped in and used his own money to pay off the debt. A lawsuit started and things were rocky for awhile. There are more details that can be found in the 1881 Ray County History Book.     

1881 Ray County History Book: “The Richmond College building from the commencement of the great Civil War until its close, instead of being the temple of learning, the home of star-eyed science, became, from necessity, a fortress bristling with bayonets, and arrayed in all the fierce panooly of war. From 1862 till 1865 large bodies of troops were quartered in it at different times.”

College Hill had troops camped in tents around the school grounds and the building was used as a headquarters, prison and hospital.

The Conservator, Richmond, Mo.: “Headquarters, 2d. Prov. Reg’t .E.M.M., Richmond, Mo. May 8, 1863. Special Order No. 2, Citizens at this post will be required to treat the members of the Militia, with courtesy and proper respect. John B. Hale Colonel Commanding.”

Richmond was on the side of the Union for most of the war, so the troops here in 1863 were boys of the Enrolled Missouri Militia.  Many local families had soldiers fighting on the southern side, so I am sure it was hard for some to keep their thoughts to themselves.

The Conservator, June 15, 1863: “OUR MILITARY. We have gotten along through these troubles better than many of our neighboring counties, which is owing to the prudence of our people. The two companies that are now here are composed of citizens of this county, and are well known. They discharge their duties faithfully and conduct themselves well.”

The late John Crouch told me about Richmond College and the troop occupation. He had a great story to share. There was no water supply on College Hill, so water had to be carried in buckets from the square up the hill to the troops. Little 10-year-old “Buster” Bannister took a bucket of water every day to his father who was one of the troops stationed there.  One day when he reached the top of the hill, he saw the body of a southern soldier who had been shot. In all the excitement, Buster left his bucket behind. When he went back up to get the bucket later, he noticed a rope hanging out one of the windows of the college building the solider had used in his attempted escape. When we think of the Civil War, we often think of all the battles fought in other locations. It is stories like this that help us understand that this war was fought in our own backyards.   

The Richmond College building served as Richmond College from 1856 to 1861; Civil War headquarters from 1861 to 1864; a College again from 1864 to 1867; a  public school from 1867 to 1905; grade school from 1905 to 1916; junior high, science building and gym from 1916 to 1942. It was vacant for a few years and then finally torn down.

The original high school building was Richmond High School from 1905 to 1916 and the Central Ward grade school from 1916 to 1933. It sat vacant after 1933 and was finally torn down in Jun. 1941 by a Works Progress Administration (WPA) crew. It was in this building that the first high school newsletter, the ECHO, was published in 1910. If you would like to see it, there is a copy of this 100-year-old ECHO at the Ray Country Museum. Check out the last page. The ECHO staff of 1910 had a great sense of humor.

In 1867, lots on the east and west sides of College Hill were sold to help pay off the debt of the school, so some homes are located on the original 10 acres. Another interesting fact about College Hill is that many of the Richmond Chautauquas were held here.

From the tents of the civil wars to the big tents of the Chautauquas, there have been many exciting events on the College Hill Campus over the years. School buildings have come and gone, but the spirit of College Hill lives on in the hearts of all of us that spent time in the schools on the hill.

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