In 1834, Arkansas was a rough-hewn, frontier territory still two years away from statehood. Some of the Arkansas Territory's centers of civilization would hardly be noticed by passersby today. Along with Little Rock and Fort Smith, other population "strongholds" were located in towns with such unassuming names as Arkansas Post, Cane Hill and Cadron. The surest modes of travel were by foot and horseback, and most inter-community communication was via "the grapevine."
While day-to-day existence in the new territory was rough, education was still considered to be an important issue. Through an educational system, the settlers were looking to build something better -- a firmer foundation for the future.
It was in this setting on October 28 of 1834, that a group of Cumberland Presbyterians met at the Cane Hill meeting house in northwest Arkansas for the purpose of establishing a school. At the time, Cane Hill was a thriving pioneer community located 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville, in Washington County. Educationally, Cane Hill was a fortunate community. Although many of the citizens were self-educated (a frontier necessity), the newfound comfort of an established settlement allowed them to turn their thoughts toward organized education. Because there were no territorial (public) schools, parents who wanted to see their children enrolled in school relied on private, personal and community effort. The influence of teaching in homes, along with the presence of strictly "for profit" temporary schools combined to emphasize both the need for and prospects of schooling at Cane Hill. Taking these circumstances into account, those meeting at the Cane Hill Presbyterian Church a few days before the Halloween of 1834 initiated plans for Cane Hill School.
When the Cane Hill School opened for classes in April of 1835, its appearance was hardly one to rival its Ivy League counterparts back East. Students at Cane Hill were taught in a two-room, hewn-log building with only fireplaces for winter warmth. But with the community's support, the school continued to fill the educational needs for the next 15 years. Then, on December 26, 1850, Cane Hill School received a charter from the state legislature granting the privilege of awarding high school diplomas. The charter also provided a new name -Cane Hill Collegiate Institute.
Proud of the success of the Institute and persistent in the pursuit of their goals of protecting their children from religious illiteracy and the training of their sons for the Cumberland Presbyterian Ministry, Cane Hill religious and educational leaders soon began to plan a full, four-year college. Except for St. John's at Little Rock (1850) and Arkansas College at Fayetteville (1852), no other college existed in the state as any sort of model. The creation of Cane Hill College was accomplished mainly through sincere enthusiasm and faith.
An act to create Cane Hill College was approved by the Arkansas legislature on December 15, 1852. Arkansas College in Fayetteville was chartered on December 14, 1852, just one day before Cane Hill College, but in 1862 the school in Fayetteville was destroyed by fire and never reopened.
St. John's College at Little Rock was chartered in 1850 as a Masonic institution. It emphasized the teaching profession by requiring graduates receiving "tuition-free" instruction to teach in Arkansas schools at least two years after graduation. A military school was added to St. John's just before the Civil War. After the conflict, which forced suspension of operations for the duration, St. John's lingered on until 1879, then ceased operations. Cane Hill College would prove much hardier than these early contemporaries.
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