On May 5, 1868, the directors of the railroad heard through their president a letter from the president of Randolph-Macon asking what inducements the company would give the college to move to Ashland. That town, on the railroad line, had come to the notice of the college's trustees in November 1866, when the owners of a bankrupt hotel there tried to sell it to the college. The town itself (known as Slash Cottage until the mid-1850s) was a real estate promotion of the railroad. The marriage of the school and the town was about to be arranged, but not until the bride's father was haggled out of a dowry.
The directors of the railroad decided that the college's presence would increase the population in Ashland, increase the property values of the town, and increase fares. Therefore, the company offered Randolph-Macon a number of inducements. First, it would move, free of charge, the library, apparatus, professors, and officers from Richmond to Ashland. Second, during the maintenance of the college in Ashland, food supplies would be carried free on freight trains (but not on mail or passenger trains) from Richmond's Bailey Market to Ashland. Third, the company would convey 19 1/2 acres of the race-course track upon erection of permanent buildings. (This land lies about half a mile south of the present campus.) Fourth, there were various arrangements for free or discounted passes for officers, professors, families, and trustees.
A second involvement with Ashland came about a week later, probably less than a week after the president of the college had learned the response of the company. On May 13, 1868, Thomas Branch and Richard Irby (along with two nontrustees, William K. Watts and Asa Snyder) purchased the Ashland Hotel for $10,000. The sellers were Charles Stebbins and wife, P. H. Russell and wife, John Perry, and Chastain H. Taylor. All four buyers were laymen and businessmen. Irby was, by 1876, secretary of the Richmond Stove Company; Branch was president of Merchants National Bank; Snyder ran an architectural iron works; Watts had a shoe store. The purchase, it is important to note, occurred before the board had voted on moving the college. The word hotel misleadingly implies a single building. In fact, there were seventeen frame buildings of varying sizes on about fourteen acres. The buildings ranged from two bars to a ballroom, a bowling alley, a ladies bath, kitchens, and seven cottages of varying sizes, in addition to the hotel building proper close to the tracks. Writing in 1894, Richard Irby claimed the honor of making the first move in removing the college from Boydton to Ashland. His own History of Randolph-Macon is curiously vague, concerning the whole business.
On May 20, 1868, a week after the purchase of the Ashland Hotel, President Johnson met with members of the Baltimore Conference in that city and gained their assent to moving the college to Ashland. This suggests that the purchase of the land in Ashland by two trustees was not a private speculation, but part of a well-orchestrated scheme to force the board to the move, The scheme was being excellently engineered and ably executed.
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