Looking Back: Bradley Academy had six buildings

Mike West, The Murfreesboro Post, January 31, 2010

Research has uncovered information about the many locations of Bradley Academy.

Research by two Rutherford County Historical Society members has uncovered information about the many locations of Bradley Academy.

It seems that the academy had at least six buildings and three locations before it ended up at its current site overlooking downtown Murfreesboro.  Susan Daniel and Martin Rooker did the research with the assistance of Ernie Johns.

The first site was near Pierces Mill on property donated by John Bradley near the current site of Walter Hill on Central Valley Road.  Pierces Mill was located near the bridge across the East Fork of Stones River on the Lebanon/Murfreesborough Turnpike.  Martin Rooker currently lives at the site of what is believed to be the first Bradley Academy on Central Valley Road.

Providence Primitive Baptist Church was located nearby.  Samuel P. Black, who lived nearby, was hired as the teacher.  When Black relocated, the trustees of the academy decided to relocate it to Murfreesborough.  In the November/December 2009 edition of Frow Chips Rooker reprinted Blacks obituary.  Frow Chips is the official newsletter of the Rutherford County Historical Society.  In 1810 he moved to Rutherford County and commenced teaching in the Bradley Academy in the neighborhood where he died, the article said.

A building was erected on Main Street on a lot on the opposite side of the road from the current First Baptist Church. At the time, the Baptist Church was on the current site of SunTrust Bank at the corner of Spring and Main Streets.  The school, a framed structure, measuring 20 by 30 feet, was east of the Baptist Church probably at, or near, the intersection of Academy and Main.

John C. Spence in his Annals of Rutherford County wrote that James K. Polk attended Bradley Academy on East Main Street, but Daniel counters that Polk probably attended the academy no later than 1816, which meant he may have attended the school in its original site near Providence Church.

Black was succeeded in his teaching duties by the Rev. Robert Henderson, the pastor of Murfreesborough’s Presbyterian Church.  Henderson taught there until 1822, when he built Hopewell Academy two miles north of Murfreesborough.  With Henderson leaving Bradley, the school was discontinued until 1826 when a small parcel of land was located east of Murfree Springs.  Indications are the land was near the front of the current Holloway High School and near CVS Pharmacy.

A one-story brick school was built with Benjamin Barlow as principal.  After enjoying initial success, the academy’s enrollment again dwindled and the building was used as a church.  In 1838, Spence said, the Bradley Academy trustees rallied for the fourth time to reestablish the school on a firm footing.  This time, they located it in east Murfreesboro and built a substantial, two-story brick building on or near the current site.  M. Merrell was hired as teacher and principal and taught there until retirement.  He was succeeded by several teachers including the Rev. Joseph H. Eaton, who went on to found Union University, whose original campus was near the site of Central Middle School.

During the Civil War, the building served as a hospital for Union soldiers and was nearly destroyed.  The school remained in terrible condition until the trustees for the Common School took the building over and repaired it for use.

In 1884, the reorganization of Rutherford County and Murfreesboro schools resulted in Bradley Academy being transformed to a school for African-Americans only.  That building was very lacking in features normally associated with modern schools. It didn’t have sanitary drinking water, restrooms or a lunchroom.

In 1917, the current Bradley Academy building was built to replace the dilapidated 19th century building.

Mike West can be contacted at [email protected].

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