Chapel Hill College

Chapel Hill, Lafayette County, Missouri

Chapel Hill Academy, in Missouri, is a chartered institution. It has a principal and several professors. Its reputation stands fair; its prospects are bright.
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1849, page 45; "Report of the Committee on Education"]

Chapel Hill College, located in Lafayette County, Missouri, is another flourishing institution under the care and patronage of our Church; and from its position in the western bounds of our operations, your Committee regard it as eminently worthy the fostering care of the friends of the Church in that quarter. At the last session, there were one hundred and forty Students in attendance; and your Committee, an an evidence of its prospects for stability, have the pleasure to state, that nine thousand dollars have already been raised towards its endowment.
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1851, page 37; "Report on Education"]

Your committee have not been place in possession of any specific information in regard to Chapel Hill College, Missouri.
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1852, page 53; "Report of the Committee on Education, No. 3"]

Chapel Hill College, Missouri, under the care of Missouri Synod, is in a flourishing condition, numbering about one hundred students, several of which are preparing for the ministry. Rev. Robert D. Morrow, President.
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1853, page 42; "Report of the Committee on Education"]

Chapel Hill, situated in Missouri, has at this time only 2 Professors, and an Instructress in Music; students 40. A new Faculty has been lately elected, and will take charge in September next, after which time we augur a brighter future. Amount of endowment and property belonging to the College something considerable, though not known in detail to your Committee. Chapel Hill is under the care of the Missouri Synod.
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1854, page 63; "Report of the Committee on Education"]

CHAPEL HILL, Missouri, has good college buildings free from debt; 4 instructors; 100 students and some endowment.
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1855, page 57; "Report of the Committee on Education"]

Chapel Hill College--no statistics.
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1858, page 74; "Report of the Committee on Education"]

--A recent issue of a Kansas City paper contains a three-column illustrated story of Chapel Hill Academy, Chapel Hill, Mo. Rev. C. G. McPherson and Rev. Dr. Robt. D. Morrow, of our church, were among the earlier presidents of this institution in its earlier history.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, December 7, 1899, page 720]

History of Chapel Hill College provides look at state's higher education

By Paul D. Porter
Special to The Democrat-News

When Missouri Valley College opened for its first session in Marshall on September 17, 1889, with an attendance of 124 students and seven faculty members, a milestone had been reached by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

In the long years of effort and frustration that followed the Civil War, that organization endeavored to establish a college to replace its two previous attempts at maintaining a Synodical College in either central or western Missouri. The two colleges that are regarded as the predecessors of Missouri Valley were Chapel Hill College, which was founded in 1840 and located in southwestern Lafayette County, and McGee College, which opened its doors in 1852 in southern Macon County at College Mound.

Both of these colleges had been closed by the coming of the Civil War. Chapel Hill College was destroyed by fire during this conflict and was never reopened. Although McGee College reopened following the Civil War in 1866, it was troubled by considerable financial problems due in large measure to its closure during the war years. Finally, it was closed permanently in 1873.

Chapel Hill College, the subject of this historical sketch, is considered the principal predecessor of these two founding colleges by virtue of it being the oldest of the two and, along with its geographic location, it exerted a remarkable influence on the early development of Missouri through the training of men and women who became leaders in social affairs, politics, education, and religion.

As an indication of the respect for this fine old institution, it is said that Dr. William H. Black, the first president of Missouri Valley College during the period from 1890 to 1926, had on his desk for many years a fragment of the old Chapel Hill College bell as a paperweight.

Due to its proximity in nearby Lafayette County and the fine reputation of the school, several notable Saline Countians attended college at Chapel Hill. Probably the most notable were John Sappington Marmaduke, who later reached the rank of major general in the Confederate Army and afterwards was elected governor of Missouri, and his brother, Vincent Marmaduke, who became a Confederate colonel on the staff of General Bragg.

Chapel Hill College had its beginning when Mr. A. W. Ridings, a native of North Carolina and a graduate of Chapel Hill College of that state, moved to Missouri in the year 1839 and acquired a large farm in a very picturesque location in the hills near the juncture of Johnson, Lafayette and Jackson counties. Ridings had an earnest interest in education and opened a school for the young men of the neighborhood in his home.

It is believed that he gave the name of Chapel Hill to the school out of love for his alma mater. The school grew so rapidly in the early 1840s that a new two-story frame structure was constructed to accommodate the demand for enrollment. The school was operated as an academy, and enrollment at the time was around 150 students. A prosperous town also grew up around the school that was given the name of Chapel Hill.

In 1847, the Missouri Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church acquired Chapel Hill Academy, and in 1849, the school was chartered on an old-fashioned college basis. The curriculum consisted of all major college courses and included ancient languages, mathematics, mental and moral philosophy and music. It was one of the largest colleges in the state.

In 1851, the impressive two and a half-story stone main college building with bell tower was completed. Somewhat unique for the times, both the academy and the college were coeducational, with male students living in numerous dormitory cottages on the college grounds and female students boarding with private families in the town.

Due to its location near the western border of Missouri, the college and the town of Chapel Hill were engulfed and all but completely destroyed by the ravages of the Civil War. The school was closed, and the campus was used by Southern troops as a drill ground early in the war.

The fortunes of the war soon changed, and Union troops occupied the campus buildings. Various groups of the Union soldiers, including volunteers and militia, then used the buildings from time to time as quarters and as a base of operations. Throughout the remainder of the war, the region became the scene of partisan fighting of the worst "no quarter" kind.

As the war progressed, most citizens moved away from the area for safety, and the old college became a convenient rendezvous for raiding parties or guerrillas on both sides of the conflict.

The end of the school came on the night of March 26, 1863, when flames were seen issuing from the campus buildings. No one dared approach close enough to see who was doing the incendiary work. About half of the thirty residences of the town are believed to have been destroyed at about this same time. There are many conflicting stories about the persons who set the fire, and the exact motivation or circumstances involved are not definitely known.

The remaining residences of the town soon met the same fate, and by the close of the war, the blackened shells of two or three buildings were all that remained of the original town.

A number of factors prevented the rebuilding of the college after the Civil War. Chapel Hill was close to the area affected by Union Gen. Ewing's Order No. 11, which had the effect of depopulating and completely burning out large areas in the western part of the state. As a result, the Chapel Hill region was very desolate and economically depressed. Also, railroads were built in other locations that added to the natural isolation of the place.

Chapel Hill College, one of the finest colleges in Missouri, thus passed into history, and today no trace remains of the school where distinguished Missourians were educated. However, the spirit of Chapel Hill lives on in its successor, Missouri Valley College.
[Source: The Democrat-News (Marshall, Missouri), October 13, 1987, pages 2 and 8]

Updated March 16, 2010

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