library > special collections > college archives


Centre College Board of Trustees

Collection Outline
Digital Archives

See Centre College Digital Archives - Board of Trustees for digitized versions of selected items from the following inventory


The Centre College Board of Trustees could well trace its ancestry back to 1780, when the Virginia Assembly granted 8000 acres of land and vested it in a board of trustees for the purpose of establishing a "public school or seminary of learning." The trustees held their initial meeting November 19, 1783, at John Crow's station near Danville and finally opened a grammar school on February 1, 1785, on or near the residence of the Rev. David Rice, a pioneer Presbyterian preacher.

In 1789, however, the young academy (Transylvania) had relocated in Lexington, taking advantage of a larger population center. The Presbyterians lost control of the academy in Lexington and decided in 1794 to found a grammar school and seminary at Pisgah, about nine miles south of Lexington. Soon a charter was obtained from the legislature for an institution to be known as the Kentucky Academy. Appeals for funds for the new academy met with generous response, and money flowed in - indeed donors included such illustrious figures as George Washington and John Adams. Sensing their own school weakening, the leaders of the Lexington academy made a major bid for consolidation with the Kentucky academy, and the Presbyterian leaders at Pisgah accepted. Now the Presbyterians were back in Lexington, commanding a majority of the Board of Trustees and substantial control of the school.

Transylvania remained under Presbyterian control for twenty years, but again their influence was dwindling as they lost board members. Finally, in 1817, the legislature appointed a new board - without a single Presbyterian board member. The Presbyterians regrouped and in October, 1818, petitioned the legislature for a charter for a new institution to be called Centre College of Kentucky. The legislature was far from eager to set up a rival for Transylvania and refused to charter a college under the control of the Presbyterian Synod. The charter granted by the legislature, (dated January 21, 1819) placed control in the hands of a self-perpetuating board of nineteen trustees. The first board consisted of those men who had petitioned for the charter and included some of the most prominent figures in early Kentucky history, including ex-Governor Isaac Shelby (Chairman), Chief Justice John Boyle, William Owsley, Judge Samuel McKee, Rev. Thomas Cleland, Rev. Samuel Nelson, Rev. Nathan Hall, James Barbour and Danville medical pioneer Dr. Ephraim McDowell. The charter granted by the legislature established Centre as a non-sectarian institution, and the Presbyterians refused to endow the college on those grounds. The funds of the Danville Academy were turned over to the trustees, and in 1821 the legislature turned over 6,000 in profits from the branch bank of the Commonwealth at Harrodsburg, but the college was in dire financial straits.

Through a legislative act of January 27, 1824, the trustees "were authorized to receive gifts which shall be applied to the uses and purposes designated by the donors or to establish and maintain one or more professorships of theology." All denominations had the privilege of establishing professorships of the college, and no student could be excluded from Centre on religious grounds.

On December 27, 1824, an amendment was approved which gave control of Centre to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. An agreement was reached whereby the Presbyterian Church of Kentucky would give 20,000 to the trustees of Centre if the number of trustees was reduced to eleven and elected by the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of the United States. The number of trustees reverted to nineteen, however, by an act approved February 1, 1839.

The Centre Board of Trustees, in 1822, was also charged with the operation of what is now The Kentucky School for the Deaf and was empowered to oversee the finances, hire and fire personnel, and other accompanying duties. In January 1823 the trustees met to put the school in operating order. The trustees remained in control of the school until an act of the Legislature dated January 7, 1870, when governing powers were vested in a board of twelve Commissioners appointed by the Governor.

At present Centre is governed by a self perpetuating Board of Trustees. "The Board has delegated the administration, educational program and discipline of the College to the President, the Provost, the Council of the College, and the Faculty, within the general policies determined by the Board."

Note: For additional information on the history of the Board of Trustees, please consult the "Legal History of Centre College" by Charles J. Turck, and pertinent materials in CC-4 Early Official Documents and Legal Papers.

Collection Description

The Centre College Board of Trustees collection was compiled from a mass of papers found in various campus locations in the early 1980's. Since no clearly defined subdivisions existed, the material was simply divided by type of document, assigned a series letter, and then arranged chronologically.

Series A, approximately half of the collection, consists of correspondence to, or from, members of the Board and the secretary and financial agent/treasurer, who served as agents of the college's governing body. A significant percentage of the collection deals with fund raising efforts by Centre, and efforts by the financial agents to collect on subscriptions made to the college. Other prominent subjects include: The Kentucky School for the Deaf (then known as the Deaf and Dumb Asylum); efforts to select presidents; faculty relations; consolidation (and aftermath) of Centre and Central University (Richmond, Ky.); consolidation of Centre and Kentucky College for Women; Carnegie foundation grants; and erection of college buildings, particularly Old Main, the "new" Boyle Humphrey Gymnasium (Sutcliffe Hall) and the old octagonal Sayre Library.

This collection of correspondence is largely a "patchwork" collection and by no means covers all the vital issues tackled by the board since its inception. The correspondence, for example, from the 1820's to the 1850's is quite diverse, while the correspondence from the 1860's deals almost exclusively with efforts by the financial agent to collect on delinquent subscriptions. A central figure in much of the later correspondence is John Adison Cheek who served as treasurer of Centre from approximately 1889 to 1933.

Series B consists of perhaps the most important chronicle of Centre's history - the volumes containing the minutes of the Centre College Board of Trustees, 1819-1853, 1863-1966. Minutes from 1819 to 1916 have been digitized, and are available from the Centre College Digital Archives.

Interesting circumstances surround volume 2 of the minutes. The volume had been missing for at least forty years when it was discovered by Dr. Miller Hillhouse in a shed between his Danville house on North Fourth Street and the home of Miss Mary Ashby Cheek on North Third Street. The minutes were believed to have been placed in the shed along with other old books and papers in the mid-1930's after the death of Miss Cheek's father, J. A. Cheek. The fate of the volume containing the minutes from 1853-1863 (one of the most interesting decades in Centre's history) remains a mystery.

Series C contains miscellaneous reports written by the Board, or committees of the Board, while Series D contains miscellaneous papers concerning the Board, including certificates or pledges for members taking the oath of office and texts of speeches and essays by members of the board.

Annual Reports to the Board may be located in CC-2 Centre College Presidents.

Collection Inventory
Series A Correspondence
Box 1
Folder 1Correspondence, Board of Trustees, undated
Folder 2Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1820-1825
Folder 3Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1826-1830
Folder 4Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1831
Folder 5Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1832
Folder 6Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1833
Folder 7Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1834-1836
Folder 8Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1844-1854
Folder 9Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1855-1859
Folder 10Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-September, 1860
Folder 11Correspondence, Board of Trustees, October-December, 1860
Folder 12Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-August, 1861
Folder 13Correspondence, Board of Trustees, September-December, 1861
Folder 14Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-May, 1862
Folder 15Correspondence, Board of Trustees, June-December, 1862
Series A Correspondence
Box 2
Folder 16Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-July, 1863
Folder 17Correspondence, Board of Trustees, August-December, 1863
Folder 18Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-March, 1864
Folder 19Correspondence, Board of Trustees, April-December, 1864
Folder 20Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1865
Folder 21Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1866-1868
Folder 22Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1869
Folder 23Correspondence, Board of Trustees, April-June, 1870
Folder 24Correspondence, Board of Trustees, July-December, 1870
Folder 25Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1871-1872
Folder 26Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1873-1875
Folder 27Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1876-1879
Folder 28Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1880-1883
Folder 29Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1884-1887
Folder 30Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1888-1890
Folder 31Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1891-1893
Folder 32Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1896-1898
Series A Correspondence
Box 3
Folder 33Correspondence, Board of Trustees, April-August, 1901
Folder 34Correspondence, Board of Trustees, September 1901-December 1902
Folder 35Correspondence, Board of Trustees, March-June, 1903
Folder 36Correspondence, Board of Trustees, July-December, 1903
Folder 37Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-April, 1904
Folder 38Correspondence, Board of Trustees, May-August, 1904
Folder 39Correspondence, Board of Trustees, September-December, 1904
Folder 40Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-April, 1905
Folder 41Correspondence, Board of Trustees, May-August, 1905
Folder 42Correspondence, Board of Trustees, September-December, 1905
Folder 43Correspondence, Board of Trustees, February-June, 1906
Folder 44Correspondence, Board of Trustees, July-December, 1906
Folder 45Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1907
Folder 46Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-May, 1908
Folder 47Correspondence, Board of Trustees, June, 1908
Folder 48Correspondence, Board of Trustees, July-December, 1908
Series A Correspondence
Box 4
Folder 49Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-August, 1909
Folder 50Correspondence, Board of Trustees, September-November, 1909
Folder 51Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-July, 1910
Folder 52Correspondence, Board of Trustees, August-November, 1910
Folder 53Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January 1911-June 1912
Folder 54Correspondence, Board of Trustees, August 1912-May 1914
Folder 55Correspondence, Board of Trustees, June 1914-June 1915
Folder 57Correspondence, Board of Trustees, undated and dated, February 1916-July 1917
Folder 58Correspondence, Board of Trustees, February 1918-December 1919
Folder 59Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-December 1920
Folder 60Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1921-1922
Folder 62Correspondence, Board of Trustees, January-September, 1925-May 1926
NOTE: The following folders of Trustees' Correspondence concern the search for a president of Centre College during 1926-1927
Folder 63Correspondence, Board of Trustees - Search for a President, March-May 1926. Includes a list of candidates and their references.
Folder 64Correspondence, Board of Trustees - Search for a President, June 1926
Folder 65Correspondence, Board of Trustees - Search for a President, July 1926
Folder 66Correspondence, Board of Trustees - Search for a President, August-December, 1926
Folder 67Correspondence, Board of Trustees - Search for a President, January-February, 1927
Folder 68Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1928-1929
Folder 69Correspondence, Board of Trustees, 1937
Series B Minutes
Public access to Board minutes may be granted for those minutes for which the President is no longer living, or 25 years past the date of the minutes, whichever is longer.
Volume 1Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1819-1826
Volume 2Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1827-1853
Volume 3Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1863-1876
Volume 4Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1876-1901
Volume 5Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1901-1916 Includes agreement for the consolidation of Centre College and Central University
Volume 6Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1916-1933
Volume 7Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1933-1943. See accompanying index
Volume 8Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1943-1950. See accompanying index
Volume 9Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1950-1955. See accompanying index
Volume 10Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1955-1960. See accompanying index
Volume 11Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1960-1963. See accompanying index
Volume 12Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1963-1966. See accompanying index
Volume 13Minutes of the Financial Committee of the Board of Trustees, 1858-1879
Volume 14-26Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1966-1979
Volume 27Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1963-1979. Index
Volume 28-61Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1980-2012
Series C Reports
Folder 1Reports, Board of Trustees, undated
Folder 2Reports, Board of Trustees, 1820-1867
Folder 3Reports, Board of Trustees, 1903-1905
Series D Oaths of Office, Miscellaneous Papers
Folder 1Certificates - Oaths of Office, Board of Trustees, 1819-1918
Folder 2Miscellaneous Papers, Board of Trustees, including notices of meetings; Memorial booklet for Rev. Joshua Barbee and Robert Taylor Quisenbury, and memorial resolution and prayer of dedication at the funeral of John Adamson Cheek, Obituary notice of Samuel K. Nelson and Maria M. Nelson
Folder 3Speeches and addresses, miscellaneous essays by the following trustees:
  • Cowan, Dr. Jr. R., "A Brief History of Centre College," 1944. An address delivered by Dr. J. R. Cowan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, on May 20th, 1944, in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of Centre College
  • Humphrey, Edward P. "An Address Delivered Before the Literary Societies of Centre College, Kentucky," June 25, 1850
  • Robinson, Rev. Stuart, "In Response to an Article Entitled, 'In Memoriam: Tribute to Rev. Stuart Robinson' in the Danville Review for March, 1862," from the True Presbyterian of May 8, 1862
  • Yerkes, John W., "Some Words About Centre College", 1922
  • Evans, James H. "Convocation" November 11, 1977