Springfield Male and Female Collegiate Institute
aka: Springfield College
During the latter part of the nineteenth century, many communities in Arkansas established small institutions of higher learning in an effort to attract and retain young citizens. The small community of Springfield in northeastern Conway County organized the establishment of the Springfield Male and Female Collegiate Institute in the fall of 1887.
At the time, Springfield was a thriving community, located at the junction of three important roads. Professor William Beverley Toon, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, was hired as president of the institute. The initial faculty also included Thomas Murphy and a Mr. Trumbul. While the local population composed much of the student population, many “boarding students” came from across the region. While many early schools were affiliated with religious groups, the Springfield school was a community effort—a precursor to the community college of the modern era. While there is no reliable record of the courses taught, oral history indicates that the coursework was liberal-arts based and intended to be preparatory for additional study.
The school was housed in the “courthouse building,” a two-story building that was only a few years old when the county government left and turned the building over to the community around 1873 when the county seat was returned to Lewisburg. It had been built in 1869 to replace the courthouse that had been burned by Union troops in 1864.
In the late nineteenth century, collegiate community education was developing rapidly along the Arkansas River Valley. Morrilton, which became the seat of Conway County in 1883, developed a committee and raised $15,000 for attraction and development of a college there. It appeared that Hendrix College, then located in Altus (Franklin County) might choose Morrilton for its new site. However, once Hendrix College bypassed Morrilton for Conway (Faulkner County), efforts were redoubled to create a school in Morrilton. The community moved quickly to develop the Morrilton Male and Female College.
In 1890, the attractiveness of the growing Morrilton area—which had a railroad, improved roadways, and significant retail dominance—resulted in Dr. Toon and his associates moving to the new school at Morrilton. Financial problems soon beset the Springfield college, and it closed soon thereafter. The exact year of its closure is unknown, though the former college building began to be used for the newly created local public school district in the 1890s. It operated as such until the 1930s, when the building was demolished in favor of a new Springfield public school.
Conway County continued to place high priority on the development and operation of a community college after the Morrilton Male and Female College closed around 1891. Arkansas Christian College opened there in 1922 and later acquired the assets of Harper College of Kansas, becoming Harding College in 1924. The City of Morrilton donated thirty acres of land north of the town, and a building was constructed by 1922. That effort also was short lived, and in 1934, Harding College moved to Searcy (White County). In 1961, through significant community, political, and personal efforts, the second community vocational-technical school in Arkansas was developed in Morrilton. This school, now called the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, has gradually developed into a community college that is a part of the University of Arkansas System.
For additional information:
Conway County, Arkansas: Our Home, Our Land, Our People. Little Rock: Historical Publications of Arkansas, 1992.
Historical Reminiscences and Biographical Memories of Conway County, Arkansas. Morrilton, AR: Conway County Genealogical Society, 2005.
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