Monday, March 31, 2008

Captain Richard Pratt and Six Mile Academy: Feeder School to Howard College and MMI

MMI’s predecessor, Howard College (founded 1842), was an institution of the Alabama Baptist Convention which, like Marion Female Seminary and Judson College, was founded by members of the Siloam Baptist Church here in Marion. Howard and MMI received some of their better students (both in Marion and later in Birmingham) – particularly ministerial students - from a feeder Baptist institution, Six Mile Academy, a member of the Mulberry Baptist Association.

Incorporated in 1859 but organized earlier, Six Mile Academy was located on Six Mile Creek (Bibb County) between Centreville and Montevallo on Highway 25 not far from Brierfield Ironworks State Historical Park. A coed elementary and secondary school, Six Mile’s heyday came via Captain Richard Hopkins Pratt, who served as headmaster from 1858-1861 and, following the Civil War, from 1872-1896. Six Mile Academy burned in 1897. This faint image shows Captain Pratt in the center of his students.

Captain Pratt and his wife, Arvezena, staunch members of the Six Mile Baptist Church, transformed the academy into one of the finest schools in the region and Howard College and MMI reaped the benefits of their instruction by admitting their excellent graduates.

During the Civil War, Richard Pratt organized Company D, 20th Alabama Infantry, serving as its captain. This regiment was formed by COL Isham Garrott of Marion, who was killed at Vicksburg (he was later promoted to brigadier general). Captain Pratt, himself, was taken prisoner at Fort Gibson near Vicksburg on May 1, 1863, imprisoned and later paroled.

Captain Pratt was elected Superintendent of Education of Bibb County, Alabama, in 1896, serving until his death on September 17, 1908.

Other buildings replaced the original academy facility becoming first Six Mile Normal Institute and later a public school until 1981. Nothing remains on the site today which has become Six Mile Community Park.

Captain Pratt and his wife, Arvezena, are buried beside each other in the cemetery of the Six Mile Baptist Church. The Captain’s grave, a tall marble shaft with his Masonic emblem, bears the following inscription: “We loved him, yes, we loved him, but the Angels loved him more.”

Monday, March 10, 2008

Financial Crisis at MMI (1911)

The purpose of this MMI Archives blog is to illustrate that financial woes have been part and parcel of the history of the Institute beginning with Howard College in 1842. Educational institutions - particularly private ones without major church support and/or a strong endowment – are usually hard-pressed to find and maintain a continual flow of funding to support the school and its programs. Many schools are enrollment-driven. A strong endowment is crucial to the survival of an institution.

As someone who taught at a venerable old military school in Virginia which closed its doors, I can tell you that it was not a pretty sight. Augusta Military Academy (1865-1984) had an illustrious history, distinguished alumni, and an enviable record of service to Virginia and the nation. In the end, the Corps was down to about 80 cadets (beds for 600) and the cadets returned from Christmas furlough only to find that their school had closed.

The leadership of MMI has constantly struggled to keep the doors open and to provide a quality educational program.

An example of this struggle is highlighted in the following letters from the Hopson Owen Murfee Papers housed in the MMI Archives. Murfee, son of our founder, served as the second president of MMI. It was he who wanted to transform the Institute into his “Eton of the South” concept modeling the school after one of the great English public schools. This dream lasted until the outbreak of World War I when the military program was again emphasized at MMI and the ROTC programs were established.

These letters from 1911 – two from Anson Phelps Stokes, Jr., Secretary of Yale University (second only to Yale’s president) and H. O. Murfee’s eventual reply - show that MMI needed $12,000 immediately to keep its doors open – a hefty sum in 1911. That H. O. Murfee felt the need to contact Stokes regarding this crisis (Stokes had visited MMI the year before) underscores the seriousness of the problem. It also illustrates the fine list of associates which Murfee had amassed over the years to support MMI and its programs. Murfee found that going First Class, to borrow the English phrase, costs money and lots of it, and he was compelled to call upon his friends to support the Institute.

The crisis of 1911 was averted, but it was just one instance in a long string of challenges faced by the MMI leadership. H. O. Murfee’s heartfelt letter to The Rev. Stokes at Yale typifies the strong Christian faith and moral values of MMI and its leadership.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Marion’s Two Confederate Generals (One, Superintendent of The Citadel)

The town of Marion boasted at least two general officers who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War: Brigadier Generals George D. Johnston and Isham W. Garrott. Johnston later became Superintendent of The Citadel.

A North Carolinian who graduated from Howard College here in Marion, George D. Johnston (1832-1910) received his law degree from Cumberland University in Tennessee, and practiced law here in Marion. In 1856 he served as Mayor of Marion before going to the State Legislature from 1857-1858.

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Johnston enlisted as a second lieutenant, 4th Alabama Infantry, eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General in the Army of the Tennessee. BG Johnston fought in every battle from Shiloh to Bentonville.

After the war, Johnston served as Commandant of the University of Alabama Cadet Corps, a position held previously by COL James T. Murfee, founder and first president of Marion Military Institute. From 1885 to 1890, Johnston served as Superintendent of The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. Following service as the U. S. Civil Service Commissioner, Johnston returned to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was elected to the State Senate. BG George D. Johnston died in 1910.

The Greek Revival home of BG Johnston here in Marion, Myrtle Hill, was built in 1840 and now serves as a Bed and Breakfast. LTC Gerry and Wanda Lewis are the present owners.

Another North Carolinian who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1840, Isham Warren Garrott (1816-1863) practiced law here Marion. Active in the community, Garrott was member of the Whig political party, a Mason, a member of the Siloam Baptist Church, an incorporator of the Marion and Alabama River Transportation Company, and President of the Board of Trustees of Howard College here in Marion. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1845 and 1847.

With the outbreak of war in 1861, Isham Garrott formed the 20th Alabama Infantry Regiment, serving as its Colonel. After his brigade commander was killed at Port Gibson, Mississippi, Garrott took command of Tracy’s Brigade in the defense of Vicksburg. COL Garrott was killed by a Union sharpshooter on June 17, 1863, shortly before being promoted to Brigadier General. Fort Garrott near Vicksburg was named for him. The fort never fell to the enemy. Hastily buried in Vicksburg during the siege, his remains have been lost.

A stone marker for Garrott stands in Soldiers Rest Confederate Cemetery, located in the Cedar Hill (Old Vicksburg City) Cemetery.

BG Garrott’s home in Marion later burned to the ground. The smokehouse with office was saved and was later moved to the Roy Johnson property next to MMI.
The building is now the property of Anita Johnson who has used it as a Bed and Breakfast. It currently serves as my humble abode.