In June 2015, plans got under way to raise the needed funding to erect a Kentucky Historical Marker to commemorate the former Bethel College in Russellville. Through the hard work and dedication of Charlie Ray, the Southern Kentucky Pastfinders, former regional librarian Evelyn Richardson and others, the $2,500 required was raised and the marker became a reality Wednesday, Jan. 13. First Southern National Bank lead the charge with donating to the project, and allowing the marker to be placed at the front of the bank where a portion of Bethel College once stood.
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 and later women earned degrees at the college. 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.
A historical marker dedication was held Wednesday, Jan. 13 at the First Southern National Bank. The event drew a good crowd, some of which had relatives who attended the college. Charlie Ray, who brought the idea of a marker to the local Pastfinder group, had a grandfather who attended Bethel.
“The building are no longer here, but the impact of the college is,” said Ray, who spoke Wednesday mentioning students names from all over the country who attended Bethel College. One of the notable students was Bob Stevenson, founder of Stevenson Elementary and one of the leaders in implementing integration of the city school school system.
“This marker represents those who attended Bethel College. Those who took their education back to their communities and their impact,” said Ray, who mentioned a individual who played baseball for Bethel College before heading to play for the New York Yankees along side the great Babe Ruth.
Foster thanked the many people who were responsible for getting the marker placed. Becky Riddle, Historical Marker Program Coordinator for the Kentucky Historical Society was at Wednesday’s event to unveil the marker.
The marker is inscribed with the following:
The school began as a Baptist sponsored high school for boys in 1854 and was chartered as a college in 1856. It closed in 1861 due to the Civil War but reopened two years later. It continued as a four year college until 1920. From 1921 until closing in 1933, it was a two-year junior college. In 1928 it became co-educational.
Bethel College Campus
The sixteen-acre campus had five buildings: main building, the president’s home, two dormitories, and library & gymnasium. Also had sixteen small homes for married ministerial students and an athletic field, Brookside Park, Confederate Convention met here, 1861. Campus was later used as a hospital during Civil War. Buildings razed in 1868.
To contact Chris Cooper, email [email protected] or call 270-726-8394.