On May 19, 1845, Rev. Robert W. Mecklin, having withdrawn from The Far West Seminary, opened a well-attended male seminary about three miles northwest of Fayetteville, and gave it the title “Ozark Institute.” Its reputation spread throughout the region, and its attendance often numbered over a hundred students. To it were attracted as teachers such brainy young men as Rev. Robert Graham, who became the partner of Rev. Mecklin. Under them were assistants A. S. Lockert and Z. Van Hoose. The institution continued until February 17, 1857, and remained inoperative until after the war, when for a time it was revived by Prof. C. H. Leverett.

Rev. Robert Graham was a Christian gentleman of remarkable abilities, and of excellent scholarship; he was a man who left his impress upon any society in which he moved, and with these abilities was coupled the earnestness and zeal of a convert of Alexander Campbell. He was not only a pastor, but an educator, and not only formed but was able to execute plans for the higher education of the youth of Washington County and the Southwest. He had made a strong impression on the students of Ozark Institute, and on his withdrawal from that school in 1850, to found a college in Fayetteville, he was followed by about twenty pupils. In October of that year he founded Arkansas College, and began the school on the lot now occupied by the residence of Mr. Prentiss. The enterprise was a private one, entirely under Mr. Graham’s control, and in 1851 his situation was such that he felt warranted in building a new structure in McGarroh’s grove, on the site of the present Fayetteville Christian Church. Mr. Graham’s first assistant was Prof. John M. Pettigrew, afterward a senator. Among his students were the following well-known names, some of them of national reputation: James R. Pettigrew, afterward editor of the Sentinel, and one of the Utah Commission, Robert Rutherford (now Judge), Granville Wilcox, a distinguished lawyer, and editor of the Van Buren Argus. Arkansas and John Wilson, T. W. and W. T. Pollard, J. T. Sutton, Maj. Johnson and Mark L. Evans, who became useful men, were also among the number. The school had attained a first-class reputation under the influence of Robert Graham, and its attendance was probably never below 100 pupils after the new building was occupied. In 1859, another Christian minister, Rev. William Baxter, assumed control on the withdrawal of Mr. Graham, and was its president until, like all the other institutions of peace, it gave way to the march of war in 1861. There are conflicting rumors in regard to the destruction of the building; it is said to have been destroyed by the order of McCulloch, in event of the defeat of his army at Pea Ridge, and according to others it was burned by Federal soldiers as a war signal to Springfield officers toward the North. Certain it is, however, it was reduced to ashes.

The loss of Miss Sawyer’s school to Washington County’s facilities for female education might have been replaced by the Fayetteville Female Institute, organized in 1858, if the war had allowed it to continue; but it had the misfortune to be used by Gen. McCulloch as an arsenal, and, after fatal Pea Ridge, the bombs and powder it contained were made to do self-destruction to the building and its magazine. Rev. T. B. Van Horn, of Ohio, the founder, in looking about for a site, chose the northwest corner of Dixon and College Avenues, the site of the parsonage of Rev. Dr. Maynard at present; here he built a three-story frame edifice, surmounted by a spire.

As Rev. Van Horn was a strong Unionist, he left Arkansas in 1861, and his institution was converted into a Confederate arsenal, meeting with the fate above mentioned. The attendance had averaged probably fifty pupils.

In 1849 Rev. Jesse and Mrs. S. A. E. McAllister organized two large academies at Elm Springs, Rev. McAllister teaching the male school, and the female school being in charge of his wife. The attendance reached sixty or more in the male school, and probably forty in the girls’ school, many attendants of the latter coming from the Indian Nation. The school was under Methodist Episcopal influences, if not entirely controlled by that body. It was not destined to an unbroken existence, for an epidemic a few years after its organization resulted in its abandonment; not, however, before a Mr. Lockhart had served as Rev. McAllister’s successor, and a Mrs. E. Saunders, who had been professor of music, had taken the place of Mrs. McAllister at the head of the female school. The deed for the lot for the building site was given May 8, 1852, by W. Barrington, to the trustees of Elm Springs Male and Female Academy, Thomas Stanford, Russell M. Morgan, Thomas McClain, W. N. Carlile, L. H. Plake and Lee C. Blakemore.

Back to: Washington County, Arkansas History

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.