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The Town a College Created

Emily Minor
Ewing Grade School, Ewing

While some towns were built around lakes and rivers, and others were built around railroads, the town of Ewing was formed around a college. This Franklin County community had its birth and foundation in a love of education. Though the college is long gone, the legacy and love of education remains to this day.

Ewing started as a rather primitive community with a few businesses and some hard working people. Later it developed into a thriving, prosperous town.

The first settlement was a few houses and a cotton mill, referred to as "Old Ewing," on the northern

Ewing College, pictured above, provided early growth and stability to the community. (Photo courtesy Emily Minor)
Ewing College

ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1995 23


edge of present-day Ewing. This woolen mill, later converted to a cotton mill, was owned and operated by Richard Richeson. Earlier he had traveled from Virginia to California for the gold rush. Each night of his journey he read from a set of Shakespeare's works. It was that kind of interest that inspired him to be one of the founders of the high school and college in Ewing.

A mile west of the present town of Ewing was a stagecoach route that meandered between Benton and Mt. Vernon. Frizzel's Prairie Baptist Church, later to become the Baptist Church of Ewing, was located along this route. At this church six men—an educator, a judge, a teacher, a preacher, a businessman, and a farmer—decided to start a high school.

Neighboring towns had been offered the chance to start a school of higher learning by Dr. John Washburn, but only this small group showed interest. They decided that the church would be used until a new building could be constructed. Dr. John Washburn was chosen president of Ewing High School in 1867, and in return he received everyone's loyal support, including considerable sacrifice in time and money.

While Ewing High School got off to a good start, the cooperation was not legal. Therefore a group of seventeen citizens met to form a legal corporation that could hold land and apply for a charter. However, when trying to find a location to build the new school it occurred to them that the high school could be taken up a step and converted into a college. At the time they probably did not foresee it, but the college they were talking about building also was going to help build the town of Ewing.

William A. King, Rev. Elijah Webb, John W. Hill, Richard Richeson, and Robert R. Link along with Dr. Washburn were all founders of Ewing College and could be considered the founders of Ewing. At this early date though, Ewing was not a town.

Ewing College brought many people and businesses to Ewing. Among them were physicians, dentists, tailors, morticians, bankers, and others who ran the livery stables, the flour mill, and several merchant stores. Soon there were families surviving on modest but adequate incomes from various businesses. The bank, in fact, was so financially sound that it was one of only three in Franklin County to survive the Great Depression. Many families of the college students moved to the area. The number of students outgrew the dormitories; hence, families built extra large houses to board students. Teachers, too, sometimes stayed with a family rather than purchase their own house.

In addition to the economic benefits the college conferred on Ewing, the cultural advancement of the area was immeasurable, due in large part to the Ewing College's excellent music department, Hundreds of preachers and several missionaries received their education there because the college offered much in the field of religion. Many teachers attended summer institutes and took more courses than were required because they were so frequently offered.

Ewing College and Ewing grew and prospered. It went through good times and bad times, but the enrollment in the college usually stayed somewhere around three hundred students. At one time, however, Ewing's population had almost reached a thousand. This changed during World War I when people had to move for economic reasons, and some students went to war.

In July 1925 the Board of Directors and the Illinois Baptist State Association met and decided to close Ewing College. It was a sad time for the whole community. The last president, A. E. Prince, ended his farewell speech by saying, "Ewing College was
distinguished by its design, uniqueness, Bible teaching, as a poor man's school, by its concern for the kind of product turned out, and by the afterglow. Again we say, Thank God for Ewing College."

As this historian looks back with some imagination, the attempt is made to picture the buildings that once stood where this historian's grade school now stands, and it provokes wonder. What would Ewing be like today if it had not been for Ewing College? What if the college had survived the economic hard times after World War I? Would Ewing Grade School even be here without Ewing College? There is really no way of knowing, but one thing is sure: Ewing College has had a tremendous impact on the history of Ewing, Illinois, and likely will never be forgotten.—[From Hiram Aiken, Franklin County History; David Goss interview of James McDuffy, Mar. 1, 1989; A. E. Price, A History of Ewing College; Ewing Eighth Grade School Class, "A History of Ewing, Illinois".]

College students gather for a game of catch on the campus grounds. (Photo courtesy Emily Minor)
College Students

24 ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1995


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