Buckner College in Witcherville (Sebastian County), chartered in 1879, began operations in the fall of 1882 as one of Arkansas’s earliest Baptist educational institutions. It was named for Henry Frieland Buckner (1818–1882), Baptist missionary to the Creek Nation, in hopes of attracting students from Indian Territory.
The college’s founder, the Reverend Ebenezer L. Compere, was a longtime western Arkansas Baptist minister and missionary who, in 1876, together with a group of Witcherville citizens, began working to establish an educational institution in the area. In 1879, he obtained the reluctant support of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, which allowed him to “open a correspondence with such parties as he may think proper with a view of employing a President and Teachers for Buckner College.” However, when the hoped-for resources were not forthcoming from this source, Compere turned to the Baptist General Association of Western Arkansas and Indian Territory for support. In 1883, a large, three-story, frame college building was built in Witcherville at a cost of $15,000. However, the college’s isolated location prevented it from receiving widespread denomination support. In 1885, Compere left the area and moved south into Polk County. His replacement was Rev. Richard Sexton James, a Baptist minister and educator, who attempted to recast the school as a ministerial training facility. However, after a couple of years, his efforts also failed. In 1887, James decided to change church affiliation, becoming an Episcopal priest. With this change, the college became the property of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Arkansas.
According to some sources, the college continued to operate through 1900, although the Episcopal Church mortgaged the property in 1889. In 1891, Buckner College again became a Baptist school. In 1903, there was a serious division within the ranks of Arkansas Baptists, with Landmark Baptists forming their own separate state organization, the State Association of Missionary Baptist Churches of Arkansas. In 1905, the State Association, desiring to have its own educational institution, assumed responsibility for the college. A large expansion of the college facilities, including a new stone college building, was launched. However, because the college was not located near the center of Landmark support in Arkansas, adequate funding never materialized, and the new building was not completed.
Funds continued to be raised for the college by Landmark Baptist organizations as late as 1912, and a board of trustees was elected for the school in 1913. Nevertheless, the college was defunct by 1914, and its facilities were sold to the local school board. By the time of the formation of Missionary Baptist College in Sheridan (Grant County) in 1919, Buckner College was just a dim memory. In 1930, the stonework from the unfinished college building was transported to Waldron (Scott County), where it was used to construct the Pines Movie Theater.
For additional information:
Buckner College Vertical File. Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.
“Church School Once Leading State College,” Southwest American. July 20, 1930, p. 24.
“Commencement at Buckner.” Arkansas Baptist. May 30, 1900, p. 15.
History of Northwest Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.
Pioneer Faith: The History of Missionary Baptist Associations and Churches in Arkansas from 1818 to 1920. Malvern: History and Archives Committee, State Association of Missionary Baptist Churches of Arkansas, 1994.
Russell P. Baker
Arkansas History Commission
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