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A Brief History of Washington College Academy


In 1780 Reverend Samuel Doak D.D., a graduate of Princeton University, founded Martin Academy, which was named for the governor of North Carolina.

Doak was born in Augusta County, Virginia, as were many of the 1780s settlers of what is now Tennessee.  Martin Academy was the first institution of higher learning west of the Allegany Mountains.  The name was changed to Washington College on July 8, 1795, one year prior to the existence of the state of Tennessee.  John Sevier, the only governor of the lost state of Franklin and the first governor of the state of Tennessee, was one of the original board members of the school.

The college experienced substantial damage during the Civil War which forced its closing for about four years.  Contemporary reports say, “The college grounds and buildings were devastated and almost ruined by the Civil War.  A large library and valuable apparatus were destroyed.  The buildings were used for barracks for the army and even quarters for their horses.  There was scarcely a whole window or door in college buildings remaining.”

In 1866 Miss Eva A. Telford and Miss G. Addaline Telford opened a school called Washington Female College on the site. The board petitioned the federal government for repayment of damages caused during the Civil War.  In 1868 the college reorganized and legally returned under the name of Washington College.  Although there are records stating that females attended Washington College prior to the Civil War, it was not until 1866 that this practice became official. In the years after the Civil War, the college struggled to maintain a college-level curriculum.

In the mid 1880s, the curriculum was expanded and the college once again conferred the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Instruction, and Bachelor of Science degrees.  The “preparatory” curriculum was and has always been an important part of the college’s study program.  In 1911, Washington College became a Junior College, preparing students for further study. In 1914, the federal government paid Washington College $4,400 for damages caused during the Civil War.

In 1923 Washington College entered into an agreement with the Washington County School system to educate high school students in the county.  By 1954 the college had been re-named Washington College Academy. The school continued offering a quality education to public school students in Washington County until 1971, when the county completed construction on David Crockett High School. Washington College Academy once again reverted to a private preparatory school. The school is governed by a board of trustees and has an active alumni association.

Today, the campus is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Currently, Washington College Academy offers a high school curriculum (HiSet) for adults free of charge and the WCA School for Arts & Crafts offers classes in traditional and contemporary arts & crafts.

Founded in 1780, “The Light in the Wilderness” has provided educational opportunities for more than 239 years.

Founded in 1780, “The Light in the Wilderness” has provided educational opportunities for more than 239 years.