Union University, 1848-1873

UNION UNIVERSITY 1848-1873 was organized by Charter February 5, 1842 by the Baptist General Association of Tennessee and the Tennessee Baptist Educational Society and was located first in Somerville, Tennessee. It moved to Murfreesboro in 1848.

The campus is shown on the Beers Map of 1878.

On December 4, 1847, the Board of Trustees of Union University, R. B. C. Howell, President of the Board, Burwell Ganaway, B. Kimbrough, Joseph H. Shepherd, James Avent, Enoch H. Jones, George D. Crosthwait, and James F. Fletcher, met at the Baptist Church in Murfreesboro. It was there moved that “the secretary procure a well-bound record book . . . that a committee be appointed to examine . . . a site for the buildings . . . and that a committee be appointed to confer with the Trustees of Bradley Academy . . . for the use and title thereto” of that building.

Union University (courtesy of Susan Harber)

On April 4, 1848, the Board of Trustees “most gratefully accepted from the Legislature of Tennessee Bradley Academy.” UNION UNIVERSITY used BRADLEY ACADEMY from 1848 to 1853. Twenty-one acres on the north side of East Main Street were purchased from Mathias B. Murfree by the Board of Trustees and the deed was signed April 19, 1848. The school was located in a large field at the eastern edge of Murfreesboro. The cornerstone was laid in June 1849. The brick building faced what is now University Street and was 80 x 110 feet and three stories high.

The Rev. J. H. Eaton was first president with these faculty members: Rev. William Shelton, G. W. Jarman, David
Bridenthall, and P. W. Dodson, all Baptist ministers. Upon the death of Rev. Eaton in 1859, Rev. James Pendleton became president until 1861. Rev. Duncan Seiph was president after the Civil War, and Rev. Charles Manley, in 1871 to October 1873.

There were 50-60 students the first year of operation. The number reached 330 before the war. During the Ante-Bellum period 173 students graduated, 38 of whom were ministers. Dr. George Savage, who founded EAGLEVILLE SCHOOL, graduated in 1871.

On December 6, 1847, the Board resolved that “tuition fees in the preparatory department be eight, twelve, and sixteen dollars per session . . . in the Freshman and Sophomore classes to be twenty dollars, and in the Junior and Senior classes twenty-five dollars per session.” In 1850 it was “resolved . . . when a student enters this university it should be the duty of the faculty to require the payment of one-half the tuition fees in advance.”

Although the school, controlled by Baptists, was said to be operated on a non-sectarian basis, most of the curriculum was planned to train young men for the ministry. The UNION UNIVERSITY Catalog 1849 further adds: “As to balls, dancing parties, circuses, theaters, etc., it is needless to say much.

Every man of reflection knows that an inclination to attend these places implies a state of mind unsuitable to the prosecution of literary pursuits. The college student who attends one dancing party a month will fall back greatly in his studies.”

The university was closed in May 1861. Although the building was seriously damaged by troops, the school reopened July 7, 1868. With over $24,000 in unpaid debts the school was turned over in a deed signed April 8, 1869 to the Tennessee Baptist Educational Society, which operated it until cholera and the financial panic of 1873 forced the school to close again. In October 1873, the Baptist General Association of Middle Tennessee and North Alabama moved the school to Southwestern Baptist University in Jackson. As late as 1875, however, there was an Auxiliary School in Murfreesboro with 75 students.

Former faculty members, Rev. George Jarman and Professor J. C. Clark, established for a short time the PREPARATORY MILITARY COLLEGE in the abandoned building.

“One of the grandest funeral processions to old City Cemetery occurred in 1859 when mourners walked behind the horse drawn hearse that carried Joseph Heywood Eaton from his home to . . . the burial ground.” Eaton’s body remained there about six months until the townspeople could raise money to buy a mausoleum for him on the UNION campus. On July 7, 1879, Tennessee Baptist Educational Society deeded to Thomas E. Eaton, the son, twenty square feet of the land which contained the vault of Dr. Eaton. The site of the tomb is also shown on the 1878 Beers Map. Eaton’s wife, Esther, who died April 22, 1886, was placed in the tomb, which was moved in 1907 to Evergreen Cemetery.

The President’s home, later called the Eaton House, built on campus in 1849 for Dr. J. H. Eaton, was a two-story brick building with ten rooms. A chimney was on each side and the entrance porch was on the right front. The house was at the time the last residence on East Main Street. In 1850 the Board resolved to execute “a deed to Joseph H. Eaton for five acres of ground lying at the east end of the tract of land . . . upon Eaton’s paying to the Board his receipt for one thousand dollars . . – with interest from the 1st day of July 1848.”

The 1878 Beers Map lists the property owner as Mrs.. Eaton. On November 16, 1882, E. L. Jordan bought the house as a gift for his stepdaughter Elizabeth Reid Williams and her husband Captain William Oscar Thomas, a former Union officer. The property was to go to their heirs. By a decree of Chancery Court on August 5, 1916, Elizabeth R. Thomas, children, and grandchildren sold to W. T. Hale, Jr., the house and five acres of land for $17,500; and on June 22, 1920, W. T. Hale, Jr., and wife Katherine deeded the same acreage to TENNESSEE COLLEGE.

The building later became the Linebaugh Library and the first location of the Rutherford County SPECIAL SCHOOL. Eaton House was torn down when an east extension was built on CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL.

A claim was filed against the Federal government for damages suffered by UNION UNIVERSITY during the Civil War. In 1915, the trustees received $15,000 which amount was given to TENNESSEE COLLEGE FOR WOMEN.


SOURCES: Deed Book 3, p.. 472; Book 4, p. 494; Book 24, p. 459; Book 26, p. 421; Book 41, p. 397; Book 64, p. 366. *Gene Sloan, “Union University,” The Daily News Journal Accent, May 28, 1978. *Homer Pittard, “Famous Institutions Once – Taught Students 100 Years Ago,” The Daily News Journal, Nov. 13, 1963, p. 12. *C. C. Sims, The History of Rutherford County Sims, 1947, p. 152. Jim Fry, “Union University,” The Daily News Journal, Aug. 17, 1975. *Minnie Fairfield Dyer, The History of Eagleville (Dyer, 1972) “old City Cemetery,” pl New Journal, June 29, 1975. *Homer Pittard, Pillar and Ground Murfreesboro: Courier, 1968. Mary B. Hughes, Hearthstones Murfreesboro: Mid-South Publishing Co., 1942, p. 19. Walter King Hoover, A History of the Town of Smyrna, Tenn. Nashville: McQuiddy, 1968, p. 100. HoffLer Pittard, Frow Chips, v. 10, no. 2, October 1, 1979. Union University Records, Dec. 4, 1847 Jan, 5, 1859. Tennessee. Department of Public Instruction. Annual ReJort 1875. Chancery Court. Minute Book AA, pp. 502-04. Interview, June 5, 1985, with Mary Price Snell, b. 1897, who inherited the “well-bound record book” from her great grandfather, Dr. R. W. January, b. 1798, who moved to Rutherford County in 1842, was a member of the Board of Trustees of UNION UNIVERSITY 1850- , was a minister of the Missionary Baptist Church, and became interested in cancer research.

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