Upland Chronicles: King’s Academy has deep roots in Sevier County

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 11:34 PM

As early as the 1840s, there was a small one-room school in operation on the farm of John S. McCroskey in the community that is now Seymour. This was known as McCroskey School House and often called Owl College.

There are various stories as to how the school got the moniker of Owl College. Some said that it was because of the eagerness of the students to learn, but others maintained that it was simply because at night the owls flew over the building and spent the night there.

Whatever the reason, the old McCroskey School house served the needs and requirements of the neighborhood until 1880. Professor John H. McCallie was one of the last to teach in the old schoolhouse. He and his brother Sam aroused such interest in school work that there was a demand for a larger building.

After attending McCroskey School, John McCallie tried his skills in teaching there. This experience helped him realize the need for more training; therefore he entered Grant University in Athens, Tenn. He attended the university during the regular sessions and taught during vacation.

After graduating from Grant University, he returned to his home community and began teaching at the McCroskey School, where he had as a boy attended school. This was the beginning of what became Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy. The academy was born in the recognition that the McCroskey School, even though it had served well during its day, was no longer adequate for the needs of the education of the youth of the community.

With McCallie at the forefront, a charter with the State of Tennessee was drafted in 1881 forming Boyd’s Creek Academy. In 1884, to honor the donation of land to the campus by Harrison Ellis, the school was renamed Harrison Seminary. Churches of the nearby Chilhowee Baptist Association began to provide financial support to the school in 1887, and the Board of Trustees changed the name to Harrison-Chilhowee Institute. A revised state charter in 1932 cemented the school’s affiliation with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and established the school’s identity as Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy.

During the first few years of existence, it was primarily a community school. The academy stressed Christian principals throughout its curriculum and activities. Although it had Baptist connections, early brochures clearly indicated “the school excludes none but rather invites all.”

From the beginning, facilities were provided for students who had to travel a considerable distance to go to school. By 1889, a girls dormitory and several cottages were constructed. The first boys dormitory was completed in 1908.

According to William F. Hall Sr., a teacher at Harrison-Chilhowee who wrote a book about the academy titled “ A Venture of Faith,” the average day on campus in 1895 would be as follows: “breakfast in the dining hall where the food was good and of modest price; the students all meet together for a chapel service where there was singing, scripture reading, and prayers; classes in which the professors were strict and required the best from their pupils; play and work in the afternoons after school; study after the evening meal; and everyone in bed by ten o’clock in the evening.”

The 1897-1898 school catalogue stated that the school at that time owned 12 acres of land. On this land were two main school buildings in which were recitation rooms, a reading room, a library and society halls. On the grounds were also located 12 cottages where students could live. They could either board in the dining hall or board themselves, which the catalogue said would be cheaper.

Roy Anderson served as president of the institution from 1929 until 1952. As president, Anderson led the school through a difficult period. The school had been left in a precarious situation due a financial crisis brought forth by the Southern Baptist Convention and the Home Mission Board.

By the time Roy Anderson resigned 24 years later, the school was experiencing tremendous growth. Walter S. Rule became president of Harrison Chilhowee in 1952. He was the grandson of Uncle Caleb Rule, one of the pioneer Baptist preachers of Sevier County.

One of the interests of Rule when he came to the school was to make the ministry of the school available to the children of missionaries. He contacted the Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board who was thrilled at the opportunity.

The Sevier County Board of Education did not have a public school in the community until the mid-1900s. Through a unique public-private school partnership, the Sevier County school board paid the academy to take the county students. A public high school was built across the road in 1961, and the county’s subsidy to the academy ceased at that time.

In 1993, the Board of Trustees reorganized the academy and gave distinct names to three operations under the Harrison-Chilhowee corporate umbrella. Since that time the elementary and secondary day school and boarding school division have been doing business as the King’s Academy. The Bible Training Center is an adult education program for bi-vocational ministers. The Chilhowee Retreat Center offers academy facilities and services to churches and schools for retreats, music camps, primarily during summer months.

Before the advent of the GED high school equivalency program, many older students, particularly married ministerial students with families, returned to school after sensing God’s calling in their lives and earned their diplomas at Harrison-Chilhowee. A campus cottage community, called Preacher Street, developed where some of these families lived as they prepared for college and seminary training.

Students from over 80 nations and most states in the U.S. have studied at the King’s Academy. From a crude one-room school called Owl College to a current 67-acre cosmopolitan campus, the school has served the needs of its students well for over a century and a half.

Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County Historian.

The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to ron@ronraderproperties.com