Roots of the College

The roots of the College lie deep in the history of the region. Eighteenth-century Presbyterians, eager for an educated clergy and educated people to teach their children, began laying the groundwork for the establishment of a college in what was then the Kentucky County of Virginia. At the same time, the Revolutionary War was being fought and the region west of the Allegheny Mountains was being settled out of wilderness. In 1780, the Virginia Assembly set aside 8,000 acres of land for this "seminary of learning." Three years later, a board of trustees met at John Crow's Station to organize the school. Instruction began at the Transylvania Seminary near Danville in 1785. But the seminary fell on hard financial times. Unable to raise proper funding in the small community of Danville, the trustees moved the school to the larger settlement of Lexington in 1789. By 1794, the founding group of Presbyterians, alarmed by what it viewed as secular philosophies invading public institutions, moved to establish a more Christian school near Pisgah, Kentucky. The Kentucky Academy opened in 1795, funded by donations from the faithful. George Washington and John Adams gave $100 each to the new school, and Aaron Burr donated $50. By 1819, the Presbyterians began to realize that they had again lost control of their institution and its board of trustees. Once more they petitioned the Kentucky Legislature for a charter, and Centre College was established.