On Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, at 1 p.m. a Kentucky Historical Highway Marker commemorating Bethel College will be placed in Logan County with a dedication inviting the public. The marker will be erected in front of First Southern National Bank at 104 Bethel Street.
“Bethel Shopping Center and the Bethel Dipper bear the Bethel name, but many residents do not know that the origin was a college whose campus occupied there long ago,” said Evelyn Richardson, local historian. “The marker will summarize the history of the college for all to see.”
A committee was formed in the summer of 2015 to spearhead this project. Contributions from a number of individuals, businesses and organizations in the community have made the procurement of the marker possible.
Bethel College opened as a high school in Jan. 3, 1854, and quickly moved to become a college in September 1856. It closed during 1861 and 1862 because of the Civil War but reopened in 1863 as a full four-year college.
Men earned Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, and Master’s degrees. From 1921 until 1933, it was a junior college offering four previous years of preparatory school-high school. Graduates were ready to enter notable institutions of higher education as Georgetown, Washington and Lee, the University of Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. Supported by the Bethel Association as a Christian institution, the college educated men for the ministry but welcomed men students. Economic constraints of the Great Depression led to its closing in 1933.
The campus covered 16 acres. There were five buildings, constructed in the following order: Administration, 1854; Presidents Home, 1872; N. Long Hall dormitory, 1976; Library and Gymnasium, 1904; and College Hall dormitory, 1923. When the college became co-ed in November 1928, the new building became the boys’ dormitory and the girls occupied N. Long Hall.
From 1892 until the campus library and gymnasium were built, the college library was housed in the front room of the Old Southern Deposit bank building on the corner of Sixth and Main. Sixth Street was previously named College Street because it led directly to the central entry to Bethel campus. In 1915, all east-west streets in Russellville were designated by number instead of name to facilitate mail delivery, as ordered by the U.S Postal Service.
Immediately behind (northwest of) Bethel’s main campus was the Brookside Athletic Field where football, baseball, track, and tennis were practiced and played. Community activities also held there included the Logan County Legion Fair, from 1923 to around 1935.
Athletics were an important part of Bethel College life. The names of future public leaders are found on the rosters of all sports- mayors, ministers, educators, business owners, and governmental officials. The football team, known as the Golden Bears, won the state championship in 1899. The 1926-27 basketball schedule included 28 games with opponents such as Campbellsville College, Murray State, Peabody, Lindsey Wilson, College of Ozarks, and Tennessee Polytechnic Institute. Bethel had won the first seven games played at the time of publication in the “Bethel Collegian.” Baseball and other sports had equal success.
Adjacent to the campus on the west is Gladish Court, a housing development created for married students. T.M Gladish, formerly associated with the college, willed one-third of his estate to the college enabling this little village to be built. Eight houses were built in 1921 with eight more added during the summer of 1922. It was sometimes called “Bethel City.” The population in 1923 was given as 32 adults, 36 children, 2 cows, 4 rabbits, 2 cats, and 12 dogs. It had its own mayor, city council, and city officials. Most of these houses still stand and the original central walkway is still visible through the grass.
On the southeast corner of 7th and Nashville Streets are two brick houses that Nimrod Long gave to the college in 1860 to serve as quarters for the married students.
Wars had an impact on Bethel College. The Confederate Convention held in Russellville for three days in November 1861, moved some meetings from the Clark Building near the Square on West 4th Street to Bethel. The building was also used as a hospital for Confederate army troops for several months during the Civil War. From 1918 to 1921, a unit of the World War I Students Army Training Corps (later known as the Reserve Officers Training Corps) was stationed at the college.
Publications from the college provide a priceless record of academics and overall college life. “Vignettes of Bethel,” 1894-95, reports an enrollment of 213, 65 of whom were from seven states other than Kentucky.
After the college closed, some of the buildings became apartment houses. Fifty people were living in N. Long Hall and had to be evacuated when it burned in 1947. Portions of three walls remain and are incorporated in the house that stands on that site today. A section of the original fence that encircled the campus still stands in front of this house along 7th Street. The President’s home was bought by the Methodists in 1953 for a mission and Bethel United Methodist Church on Hwy. 68 West grew from this beginning. The church sold the property to Citizens National Bank in January 1963 as the site for a branch that opened in June. A merger brought a name change to the bank, and the present First Southern National Bank Bethel Branch opened in 2013. Displayed inside the bank are pictures of the college, a framed blue and gold Bethel Collage basketball jersey, a pennant, and additional memorabilia.
The last building to be torn down to make way for the expanding shopping center was the first to be built- the administration building, raised in February of 1968.
Information was obtained for this article through the Logan County Public Library.
To contact Chris Cooper, email [email protected] or call 270-726-8394.