Creal Springs Seminary College

Creal Springs Seminary was opened to students September 22, 1884 with Gertrude Brown Murrah as principal. Mrs. Murrah ranked high as a teacher, as a member of the Ewing college faculty, and as principal oCreal Springs, Illinoisf her own select school at Frankfort. Dr. Curtis Brown, her brother, and other leading citizens of Creal Springs saw the advantages a private school of higher grade would bring their new town. A five acre campus on the hill north of the original village made an agreeable location.

Henry Clay Murrah, who had considerable experience as a contractor, built a large, four-story school and dormitory. Additions in 1890 and 1895 increased the building’s size to fifty rooms. Plans were to register only young women students, but as many boys as girls appeared on opening day and the seminary became coeducational.

The teachers of 1884 were Miss Alice P. McIntire, for music and voice culture; Ed Simpson, for penmanship; Miss Lovina Odum, for the preparatory department; and Miss Cora Brown, for primary studies. Incorporation of the seminary was secured from Secretary of State Henry D. Dement August 29, 1888. Mr. and Mrs. Murrah, Ephraim Herrin who married Mrs. Murrah’s sister Fatimma Brown, and Frank and John Brown were the incorporators. The last two were uncle and father of Mrs. Murrah.

January 5, 1894 the school was chartered as a college and conservatory of music, and placed under the control of the Baptist denomination. A board of fifteen trustees was entrusted with the problems of management. Their first action was to elect Mrs. Murrah principal. Ten of the first trustees were ministers of the Baptist church. Williamson county members of the first board were Dr. G. S. Smith, Rev. T. W. (“Wilce”) Chamness, Rev. W. W. Woodside, Rev. Calvin Allen, and Levi Ferrell, all of Creal Springs, and Marshall E. Chamness of Chamness.

Friday evenings at seminary and college were devoted to meetings of the Erina literary society. Music, debate, oration and recitation occupied the program. Their publication was the Erina Star.

Several graduate students became teachers in the school. Among them were Miss Hattie Chamness, daughter of Rev. T. W. Chamness and later Mrs. Charles Jochum; Miss Nora Calhoon; and Miss Ruth Herrin who became the wife of Dr. David H. Harris of Marion. Other students were John B. Morray of Creal Springs; Edward M. Heaton, county treasurer 1918-1922; and Columbus Brown who prepared himself for medical school at his sister’s seminary.

Mr. and Mrs. Murrah locked the doors of their college December 24, 1916. Work in their classes was received with full credit by the larger universities. Degrees as Bachelor of Arts, science, or philosophy were granted. Only death ended their plans for the future of their work in education and religion.

Gertrude Brown Murrah (1851-1929) was born near Bainbridge where her father, Captain John Brown, ran the tannery yard. She attended Brownville School, then the colleges at Carbondale and Ewing, and was graduated with honor at Mount Carroll seminary, now Frances Shimer College. Her church membership was at Hurricane. In 1877 she was a candidate for county superintendent of schools. Both parties offered her their nomination, but she preferred to run as an independent. With her father driving the buggy, she campaigned from farm to farm through the county. But the party vote defeated her, and Dr. James M. Fowler was elected.

Teaching and county institute work occupied her until she became the wife of Henry Clay Murrah (1847-1920), a classmate at Ewing College, a fellow teacher, and a merchant at Frankfort. Together they built Creal Springs Seminary. Their sons are Dr. Frank C. Murrah of Herrin and Charles C. Murrah, state’s attorney in 1932-1936.

Back to the top

(Extracted from Pioneer Folks and Places, Barbara Barr Hubbs, 1939)