Crab Orchard Academy had its beginning in the mind of James W. Turner. He taught the village school at Crab Orchard, and in the spring of 1885 he offered his more advanced students a special term so they could fit themselves to teach. George A. Henshaw, a recent graduate of Henshaw School, joined them. Classes met in the Methodist church.
Professor Turner interested some of the leading citizens, and Secretary of State I. N. Pearson granted them papers of incorporation July 30, 1889. Crab Orchard academy was instituted with a capital stock of $2,000 divided into eighty shares. The incorporators were Mr. Turner, John Huddleston, Henry J. Fuller, John H. Farris, Martin M. McDonald, Robert F. Peebles, and Dr. John Fletcher Tidwell.
A meeting of subscribers was called August 14 to elect directors. This board had varying terms. Dr. Martin M. McDonald, M. J. Brewer, and Dr. John Huddleston for three years; Dr. James M. Fowler and W. A. Chaney for two years; and W. L. Stilley and M. J. Turner for one year. This board immediately began construction of a building with three class rooms and an assembly hall, on a campus of seven acres.
School opened January 6, 1890 after ceremonies of dedication on Christmas day. Professor Turner, as head of the academy, made normal work its specialty, and many a fine teacher went out from his classroom. M. N. Swan and Robert O. Clarida, who were successive county superintendents of schools, graduated at Crab Orchard academy in the classes of 1895 and 1896. Mr. Swan stood at the head of his class. Mr. Clarida became secretary of the state teachers’ pension fund at the time it was established in 1917, and continued actively in that field until his death in 1936.
Among the students during 1894 and 1895 was Americus Gassaway, who went out to teach Bandyville School. Others enrolled were W. O. Potter, state senator; Ed Scobey, county clerk; and Leslie O. Caplinger, circuit clerk, who graduated in 1898 from the “teacher’s scientific course and bookkeeping.”
Professor Turner found the increasing number of pupils and the unquestioned value of his instruction did not bring forth the requisite financial support for his academy. Debt rather than salary was his reward, so he decided to reenter public school work. His resignation was made June 10, 1896 at the dose of graduation services.
Robert P. Hill, a graduate of Ewing College that year, was elected principal to succeed Professor Turner. He served two years and then moved to Marion to study law. He was elected to congress in 1912, so a sketch of his life will be found in that section.
The academy fell into disuse, the corporation was dissolved, and the building was used by the public schools. It burned just before Christmas 1937. Residents of Crab Orchard Township voted to establish a community high school district, and a new building was erected. Thus interest in higher education progresses with the times, but Professor Turner’s influence showed the road.
(Extracted from Pioneer Folks and Places, Barbara Barr Hubbs, 1939, on sale at the Williamson County Museum)