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Welcome to Washington College

Nestled in the foothills of East Tennessee along paths formed by migrating buffalo and trod by the Cherokee is a place sought out by the early pioneers. It is a place where a cry was heard in the wilderness, a cry for classical learning. It is a place whose history and heritage are as rich and colorful as the fall leaves that give the surrounding countryside its natural beauty. It is Washington College.

Presbyterian minister Samuel Doak founded the school as well as the nearby Salem Church in 1780. The original school was known as Martin Academy. The first charter was granted by the State of North Carolina, then it was chartered by the State of Franklin 1784-88; the Territory South of the River Ohio 1790-96; and finally Tennessee in 1796.  John Sevier, the only governor of the State of Franklin and first governor of Tennessee served on the school's board.

In 1795, the longtime Academy became a college. It requested and received permission from George Washington to name the school in his honor. Washington graciously sent the school a check for $50, which was a tidy sum in the day.

A small log cabin was erected that became famous as the place to get an education, the first institution of learning west of the Allegheny Mountains. The fledgling institute was not blessed in numbers, but was renowned for the quality of its instruction. Not only was the mind cultivated, but students were introduced to labor through chores, citizenship, and religion. It recognized that there were no substitutes for Christian thinking and high scholastic standards.

With many students isolated, and distant from the school, Doak developed a curriculum that offered an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge for everyone eager to learn. Students were never turned down for a lack of means to attend the school. That tradition remained in force up into the late 1970’s.

The school was closed for the Civil War years and almost totally destroyed by the armies of both sides that used its grounds and buildings. In 1914 the federal government gave Washington College $4400 dollars for the damages committed during the war years.

In 1868 the college reorganized as a female institute during which time it struggled to maintain a college level curriculum. By the mid 1880’s the college was again open to all and conferred the Bachelor of Arts, Instruction, and Science degrees.  In 1911 the college was recognized as a junior college offering college prep courses.

Washington college entered an agreement with the Washington County school system in 1923 to provide a high school education to county students. By 1954 the college was renamed Washington College Academy and continued to offer quality public education until 1971. The school once more became a private preparatory school.

Today Washington College continues to offer quality education through a series of special programs offered to the community. It is becoming known as a center for the arts where the forms of artistic talents are as diverse as those mountain leaves.

Today’s Washington College has roots as deep as the country itself. It is a diverse heritage that draws students and friends to our campus. We are on the National Register of Historic Places, so come feel the history, enjoy the view, soak in the heritage. Take a class, get to know us, be a part of our ongoing history, you’ll be glad you did.

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