Washington College community is located between Telford and Limestone, with its center at Washington College Academy and Salem Presbyterian Church, both founded in 1780 by the Rev. Samuel Doak. The community’s chief claim to fame is the age and influence of these two institutions; the church was the first Presbyterian church in Washington County, and the school was the first institution of higher learning established west of the Appalachian Mountains.
The influence of the church and school at Washington College has extended into many professions and into many localities. Among the college’s alumni are twenty-two college presidents, twenty-eight members of Congress, three governors, sixty-three physicians, sixteen missionaries, and 168 ministers; many lawyers and judges; an uncounted number of teachers; and a chaplain in Congress. Two of the physicians were Dr. S. B. Cunningham, president of the first railroad through East Tennessee, and Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey, the noted historian who wrote Annals of Tennessee. The school’s influence in the world of music through the work of Mrs. Carrie Repass Warrick, piano teacher for over 60 years, cannot be measured. Many of her pupils have become music teachers and choir directors; one pupil, Frank Little, is the well-known tenor who has performed with the New York Metropolitan Opera. As a member of the piano Teacher’s Guild, Mrs. Warrick has judged piano contests nationwide.
The school, first called Martin Academy, was chartered as a college in 1795 by the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio. Its first Board of Trustees, several of whom lived in the community, were: Samuel Doak, President; the Reverends Charles Cummings, Edward Crawford, John Cosson, James Balch, Robert Henderson, and Gideon Blackburn; Judge Joseph Anderson; General John Sevier; Colonels Landon Carter and Daniel Kennedy; Majors Leeroy Taylor, John Sevier, Jr., John Tipton, William Cocke, Archibald Roane, Joseph Hamilton, John Rhea, Samuel Mitchell, Jesse Payne, and James Aiken; William Charles and Cole Claiborne, Esquires; Doctors William Holt and William Chester; Messieurs David Deaderick, John Waddell, Jr., Alexander Mathes, John Nelson, and John McAlister.
Since its beginning in 1780, the school at Washington College has faced problems. Its first books had to be carried by pack horses from Philadelphia. During the Civil War, Harris Hall was used as a stable for horses, with its upper floors used as barracks for troops; books and classroom equipment disappeared. Recovery took over fifteen years; beginning in 1882 and continuing until 1908, the school steadily increased its endowment, added to its library and classroom equipment, bought land, and erected new buildings. After briefly uniting with Tusculum College of Greene County, Washington College was forced to discontinue college work in 1918 due to lack of funds, decreased enrollment (due to World War I), and competition from nearby colleges. Since 1918, the school has operated as a high school or academy, but has continued to provide dormitories for nonresident students and self-help opportunities.
Families owning land in the community during the 1700’s and 1800’s include: Mathes, Doak, Sherrill, Hanna, Nelson, Waddell, Payne, Blackburn, West, Roberson, Mitchell, Anderson, Baxter, and Bowman. The earliest buildings still in use are: a brick house built by Ebenezer Smith Mathes in 1815; a log house, now enclosed by a large frame house, built in 1819 by Alexander Mathes II; and Harris Hall, erected in 1842. The cemetery next to the campus has been in use since 1780; it contains about five hundred graves with legible tombstone inscriptions and many graves unmarked or marked with fieldstones. The first Washington College Post Office was established in 1843 and for several years afterward was located in the homes of the postmasters. The post office was closed for six years immediately after the Civil War and finally closed in 1965, merging with the Limestone Post Office.
Members of Washington College community have reason to be proud of their heritage. They look forward with faith, believing that Salem Presbyterian Church will continue to inspire, comfort and bless those who worship there and that Washington College Academy will continue to uphold high scholastic standards and promote Christian values. – contributed by Mary Sue Going