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Hometown History Day
October 6, 2012

Bethel College
Russellville, Kentucky

"Ah, say not that Bethel dies...
The resurrection morn alone can tell the largeness which
The busy years have brought mankind.

- Quote from a lengthy poem written and read by John W. T. Givens of the class of 1893 at the closing exercises held in the college chapel on January 30,1933.

      Bethel College opened as a high school on January 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 Baptist Bethel Association as a Christian institution, the college educated men for the ministry but welcomed ail 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; President's Home, 1872; N. Long Hall dormitory, 1876; 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 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 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.

      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 chiidren, 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, as referred to above. 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. Bethel sent its quota of men into service and never failed to blow the fire alarm on Armistice Day in following years.

      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. The monthly "Blue & Gold" literary magazine, also founded in 1894, reported on department activities and included students' compositions. "The Bethel Collegian" newspaper was published weekly by an editorial staff made up of students.

      The 1919 "Dasher" was the first college annual, named in memory of Mrs. George F. Dasher, wife of the president. The name of the annual was changed in 1924 to the "Blue & Gold," the school colors.

      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, government 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 already played at the time of publication in the "Bethel Collegian." Baseball and other sports had equal success.

      After the college closed, some of the buildings became apartment houses. Fifty people were living in N. Long Hall and had to evacuate when it burned in the mid 1940s. 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, the present-day Bethel Branch of the First Southern National Bank. Framed and hanging on the wall inside the branch are a blue and gold Bethel College basketball jersey and pennant. The last building to be torn down to make way for the expanding shopping center was the first to be built - the administration building, razed in February of 1968.

      Official records of Bethel College are archived at Georgetown College, Georgetown, Kentucky.


[From a history provided by Ben Stratton, Farmington, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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