Smith County History: Gordonsville Academy

January 8, 2021

The following is an excerpt from the Smith County History Book. The book was published in 1986 by the Smith County Homecoming ’86 Heritage Committee. To purchase a digital copy of the Smith County History Book, contact the Smith County Chamber of Commerce or the Smith County Heritage Museum. 

The Gordonsville Male and Female Acad­emy opened its doors August 6,1883, with an enrollment of ninety pupils. The academy was chartered and administered by a board of directors.

The school was located on Main Street between “ up town” and “ down town” on the lot where the Jesse Wilson/Robert Nixon home now stands. The first building con­tained three rooms and a hall and was convenient and well-supplied with desks and black boards. The cost of construction was about $1750. Students came from Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Ken­tucky and boarded in private homes to attend the school. Tuition rates in the Literary Department ranged from $7 to $18; in Music, including the use of an instrument, $20. Board, with a good family convenient to the school, including washing and lights, was $9 per month.

Gordonsville Academy ca 1900 after second story was added.

The first principal of the Gordonsville Academy was Professor W.B. Ballard, a man of great energy, a good disciplinarian, and a splendid teacher. His assistants were N.L. Gold, Miss Emma Cook, and Miss Mollie Moore. The teachers as a unit believed in pupils from the lowest to the highest grades being taught self-reliance and accuracy. Students were encouraged to acquire, digest, and dispatch ideas. Nathan L. Gold, who loyally served the school for many years prior to his death in 1900, was a firm believer in teaching children morality and to love work and hate idleness. His philosophy was that once these principles were instilled in youth, none of them would become victims of immorality, crime, pauperism, the poor- house, the jail or the penitentiary. Many other able educators taught at the academy including J.T. Williams (1884) and John Moore Washburn, D.D. who founded Ewing College in Illinois and returned to his native county to serve as principal at Gordonsville and minister at New Middleton Macedonia Baptist Church for the years 1893/1894.

The course of study for the academy was adopted by the board of directors, and a diploma was granted to those who satisfacto­rily completed the course. Graduates were prepared to enter the best colleges or for other active duties of life. Bookkeeping, Greek and surveying were optional with the females, but all students were required to study English and science. Mathematics and Latin were offered in the course of study as well as music and art. The patrons of the school were asked to aid in procuring a select library which would equip the academy for thorough study.

Also connected with the school was a literary society. The society paper, The Monthly Surprise, furnished an opportunity for all pupils who wished to improve their talents in news correspondence.

The goal for the academy, as stated by the trustees and teachers, was to establish a first class high school that would be an honor to the wealthy community in which it was situated.

In 1900 the old building was remodeled and a second story was added. The Sircy Brothers were contractors for the renovation of the building. W.O. Cranor was principal that year, and in the Carthage Times he an­ nounced that repairs on the building would be completed by August 6 when the new term began. “Thoroughness our motto” was the slogan proclaimed by Mr. Cranor.

The old academy building served the community until 1913 when the large and commodious, steam-heated, two-story brick building was constructed on the hill where the present school is located. The cost of construction for this building was $14,000. The wooden annex was added later, and the gymnasium was built in 1933 with the Gordonsville Womens’ Club directors of fund-raising for the project. These old build­ings, fondly remembered by many as their Alma Mater, were razed in 1952 and the present modern Gordonsville school was constructed on the site.