More than the bell was left when the school decamped to Ashland. On July 30, 1868,
President Johnson and all four of the faculty tendered their resignations. Johnson's
prosy letter does not offer any real explanation for his action; one might conclude
anything from it. Criticism of his lack of presidential appearance, if Alexander
G. Brown's letter (cited earlier) is typical, may have prompted the resignation,
but Johnson's dealings with the railroad and the finesse of the whole maneuver with
the board of trustees do not suggest bald incompetence. Nine days after his resignation,
Johnson was horribly and ironically killed on his way home to Missouri. He fell
between two railway cars when they accidentally separated and then was crushed between
them. His back was broken and his right leg smashed in two places. He died, fully
conscious to the last, a few hours later.
The letters of resignation from the faculty are not given in the minutes. The Richmond
Christian Advocate observed only that these resignations were for the generous
purpose of disembarrassing the Trustees.
The opening of the college in Ashland on October 1, 1868, did not put an end to
the story of the move from Boydton. Two issues produced by the transfer continued
to occupy the attention of the board and the administration. The first of these,
and rather the simpler, was that of real estate; the second, and far more complicated,
was rechartering. As both of these perlured for years while the business of teaching
went on, it might not be amiss to address them directly, even at the expense of
a strictly chronological narrative.
The holdings of the college in Ashland upon the opening of school were, first, about
seventeen acres (the current site of the campus) with a scattering of wooden buildings,
and second, a larger parcel of nineteen and one-half acres on the west side of he
railroad tracks containing a race course and one-half mile south. Unless the college
could get enough money in one sum to build a complete physical plant on the race-course
tract, the land was useless, and the railroad had given it conditionally upon the
erection of the college buildings on it.
In June 1870, the trustees considered asking permission from the RF&P to sell
off the property, presumably holding that the establishment of the college in Ashland
satisfied the spirit of the agreement of 1868. It appears from the absence of further
action that the executive committee of the board never deemed it expedient to make
that request. In the ensuing year, the race track on the property came to be used-a
scene of dissipation too great for the students' moral resolve to resist. The board
of the college in its annual meeting decided to ask for control of the property
so that it could put a stop to the races. This request was put in the form of the
possibility of erecting houses on the tract, but even that did not satisfy the railroad
directors, and they refused. Complicating the story is the signing of the deed on
July 24, 1871, by the two institutions, including the conditions for building permanent
college structures within fifeen years.
The stalemate continued until 1872. By June 25 of that year. the trustees had visited
the newly completed brick hall of the Washington and Franklin literary societies.
That structure, reputedly the first brick building in Ashland, anchored (in the
words of the town historian, Robert Lancaster) the college to the north side of
town. The trustees realized that they could not build a new college a half-mile
away. With that realization, the solution to the impasse became manifest: exchange
the race-course property for property across the tracks to the west. The trustees
began to investigate this possibility on June 26, 1872. In the following December,
the directors of the company received a request from Alexander G. Brown, financial
secretary of the college. He proposed exchanging the race-course property for an
equal area west of the college, upon condition that the college erect a hotel on
the site within eighteen months, which design would be approved by the directors.
The hotel, to be used by the college, would thus satisfy the company's demand for
a permanent college building. This proposal was accepted by the president and directors
of the company on December 14, 1872. The plans were submitted and approved on November
18, 1873. While a hotel was probably not what the directors had in mind in 1868,
it was clear that the college had permanently located in Ashland, and the real goals
of the company, fares and increased real estate values, would be realized.
A portion of the property, about seven acres, was then sold by the trustees to Alexander
G. Brown, one of their number, for $1,000 some time before J une 1873. Two years
later, Brown reported that a hotel, designed by A. L. West, had been completed and
leased for three years to Maj. A. V. Scott and his brother to be a house of entertainment
for the students as well as boarders and transient visitors. The hotel had been
built by Brown at his own expense, even though he had not yet received title to
the land. Two years later, Brown very generously gave the hotel and the property
back to the college. The hotel would continue to be a boarding house for the students.
As for the remaining twelve acres west of the school, they began to be sold off
to pay the college's debts in April 1879. By June, one lot had been sold and the
rest were on the market. The sale of the properties continued until 1886, when the
board ordered a stop to the general sale. After June of that year, land could be
alienated only upon specific approval of the board. Nearly all the land and the
hotel were alienated.
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Reprinted from Professor James Scanlon's Randolph-Macon College: A Southern History