Clarke’s Academy was a private school that operated between 1867 and 1905 in Berryville (Carroll County). The school earned a reputation for the quality of its work, the accomplishments of many of its alumni, and the integrity and dedication of its founder, Isaac A. Clarke.
Isaac Asbury Clarke was born on March 22, 1837, in Overton County, Tennessee. In 1844, after the death of his father in 1841, his mother moved to Carroll County, Arkansas. Clarke attended Berryville Academy and then Cane Hill College in Washington County. After teaching school for a time, he entered the University of Missouri. Following a visit home in 1861, he was advised that it was dangerous for him to go north again. He enlisted in the Confederate army and served until his discharge as a captain at the end of the Civil War.
There had been no organized schools in Carroll County during the war, and when Clarke returned home, he saw the devastation and poverty. Berryville Academy, as well as much of the town of Berryville, was burned during the Civil War, and the school never reopened. Clarke figured that by selling a watch he owned for $100 and having his mother keep house for him and take in boarders, he could manage to open a school. When the school opened on January 14, 1867, on property about a mile from town, twenty-five students were enrolled. By the end of the term, enrollment had increased to eighty.
In September 1871, Clarke married Virginia G. Layton, a former pupil from Missouri. She continued her education in St. Louis, Missouri, and later became a teacher at Clarke’s Academy. The couple had three children: a boy and two girls.
On Friday, April 23, 1873, the building that housed both classroom and dormitory space burned, presumably caused by a boarding student’s drying laundry too close to a fire. By Monday morning, Clarke had secured facilities in town. For two years, classes were held in temporary quarters until the completion of a spacious, three-story brick building that served as family home, classroom, and dormitory space. Clarke purchased a large bell that had served the Berryville Academy. It remained on the property until more recent years, when it was moved to a permanent home in front of a downtown bank.
Clarke’s Academy attracted students from a wide area. Any student who wanted to learn and was willing to work was admitted. Generous allowances were made for those who had few financial resources. Farm produce and animals, labor, and useful items were accepted in lieu of tuition.
An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 young people attended the school. Names of students who attended reflect a wide variety of locations and accomplishments. A roster of former students and their future careers and situations includes a young Cherokee woman; Henry Ross, an Arizona Supreme Court justice; his brother John Ross, a Phoenix, Arizona, attorney; Judge Hugh Basham and Dr. A. M. McKennon of Clarksville (Johnson County); Emma Simmons, a teacher of modern languages in Boise, Idaho, schools; F. M. McConnell, editor of the Baptist Standard of Dallas, Texas; John L. Doxey, a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel; Ange Moses, father of C. Hamilton Moses of Little Rock (Pulaski County); and Joe Ben Baines, a cousin of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The school did not reopen after the term ending in June 1905 due to Clarke’s failing health. He died on May 26, 1907, and is buried in the local International Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery, now known as Berryville Memorial Cemetery. The remains of his wife, who had died on August 8, 1879, after being injured in a camping trip accident, were removed from their original place on the grounds of the academy to lie beside his. A monument provided from funds raised by alumni was dedicated at a reunion on August 16, 1929.
For additional information:
Lair, Jim. An Outlander’s History of Carroll County, Arkansas, 1830–1983. Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing Company, 1983.
Logan, Coy. “Carroll County’s Early Schools.” Carroll County Historical Society Quarterly 12/13 (December 1967/March 1968): 1–13.
Newman, Kathleen. “Clarke’s Academy of Berryville, Arkansas.” 1961. Folklore Class Reports, Mary Celestia Parler Research Materials, Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Little Rock, Arkansas
The Academy still stands in 2011 and is lived in by Clarke’s descendants.
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