Top 10: Bradley Academy to celebrate its bicentennial

Michelle Willard, The Murfreesboro Post, January 11, 2009

Historic treasure marks start of education here

Murfreesboro’s oldest school celebrates its bicentennial this year and Bradley Academy Historical Association kicked off the special occasion Saturday to lead up to a yearlong celebration.

“This year is our 200th year celebration in education,” said Katie Wilson, chairwoman of the Bradley Academy Historical Association Board. “We’re celebrating the history of the Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center.”

In honor of the bicentennial celebration, we bring you the Top 10 (11, because it’s an historic treasure) facts about the Bradley Academy, starting from the beginning.

1. Bradley Academy opened in 1809, after the Tennessee General Assembly mandated one public school be built in every county to provide an education for young, white men.

This was when Murfreesboro was called Lytle Creek, before Nashville was the official state capital and long before the Battle of Stones River.

2. The most notable scholar at the Bradley Academy was Columbia native and 11th U.S. President James K. Polk.

Polk, along with other Tennessee notables like Sen. John Bell, learned English, grammar, Latin, Greek, arithmetic, writing, logic and literature at the school. Polk and other students paid $18 to $24 dollars a session, plus parents provided firewood.

While in Murfreesboro, Polk met his future wife Sarah Childress, a Murfreesboro native.

3. Although Bradley was the first school in Murfreesboro, it was soon followed by the establishment of many others, including the Female Academy in 1825, Union University in 1834 and Soule College in 1851.

When Bradley closed in the 1850s, students were absorbed into Union University, which has since relocated to Jackson.

4. The facility was used as a hospital following the Battle of Stones River by both Union and Confederate soldiers.

5. In 1884, the school building was repaired and opened as an elementary school for black children.

“This building was first thought of as an educational institution for white males only. Then it was opened up to African Americans, both male and female,” Wilson said.

In the first year, the school had three teachers and 150 students. Six years later, there were 250 students and an additional building was rented to accommodate the extra students.

Junior high classes were added in 1893 and a three-year high school program was added in 1918.

6. In 1918, construction on the current school building was completed.

Wilson said students came from as far away as Cannon County to attend the school, because Woodbury didn’t have a high school for black students until the 1960s.

In 1928, high school classes were moved to the new Holloway High School, which is still open today and run as an academic alternative school by Rutherford County Schools.

7. In 1955, Bradley Academy closed to students. Afterward, Murfreesboro City Schools used the school for office and storage space and the school soon fell into disrepair.

8. During its years of operation as Murfreesboro’s only school for black students, Bradley became a focal point for Murfreesboro’s black community.

In 1988, community leaders banded together to breathe new life into the old school. Two years later the Bradley Academy Historic Association formed and the school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

9. In 2000, Bradley Academy was reopened as a museum and cultural center. It serves as a multi-purpose, multi-cultural and educational facility for the entire Murfreesboro community.

The building was restored with financial help and community support from MTSU’s Center for Historic Preservation, Murfreesboro, Tennessee Historical Commission, Rep. Bart Gordon (D – Murfreesboro), Christy-Houston Foundation, the Tennessee General Assembly, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and private donations.

10. Bradley Academy Museum houses permanent exhibits on Rutherford County’s African-American community including a recreation of a Bradley Academy classroom and Holloway High School memorabilia.

The Murfreesboro-Rutherford County Room features historic topics like Native Americans and early settlers in the 1800s with accompanying photographs and artifacts.

The museum also highlights black soldiers in the Civil War with its exhibit “From African Warriors to Civil War Soldiers.”

11. During the yearlong bicentennial celebration, Bradley Academy will hold a series of events including Project Presidential Way in honor of James K. Polk, the annual Juneteenth celebration, and exhibits focusing on African American heritage through art and the Underground Railroad.

“We’re encouraging people to come in and tour any month during the entire year, to come see exhibits about African American art and culture,” Wilson said.

Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or [email protected].

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