Hughes purchased an additional 8.25 acres from Edward S. Scott for $788.75. The Scott family were major landowners, whose property included most of the present town site and college campus. In fact, the town was originally named for the Scott family. The railroad company, which had the privilege of naming depot towns, changed the town’s name to Wilmore, another local family name, after the Scott’s sued the railroad because several of their mules were hit on the track near town.
In July, Hughes began construction of a new brick administration building. When the cornerstone was laid in August, Hughes reverently placed within it a piece of stone from the nearby ruins of the original Bethel Academy, opened by Francis Asbury a century before.
Almost the entire college program was housed in this single structure. It contained laboratory, library, president’s office, reading rooms, classrooms, a large auditorium, the gymnasium, storage, recitation rooms and the museum. The local Jessamine Journal called it “a model of architectural beauty.”
In November, William McKinley, Republican, was re-elected President of the U.S.
In December, when the construction of the new building was completed, Hughes went to Cincinnati to purchase a cupola and clock for the administration building. Because there was a chapel in the new building, the former College Chapel, built in 1891, was converted to a boys’ residence hall.
The new Administration Building was finished in time for commencement on May 24.
Although ten years before Wilmore had lacked even a common school, it now seemed an academic magnet. In September a second institution calling itself a “college” opened in town. This was Bellevue College, whose founder and “principal” was Professor H.T. Boyd. This was a secondary school. It was located on property also purchased from the Scott family, located on the West side of North Lexington Avenue. The new “college” was in fact located in the original Scott family house. The Asbury campus was nearby on East Main Street.
In the same month, President McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, New York, and was succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.
In December there was controversy over T. Walt Hughes, son of the founder. There is no way to know what the difficulty was so long after the fact. It may well have been something quite harmless to later eyes, but judging from contemporary accounts and his own biographical writings, Hughes junior was not a conventional boy by the standards of 1901. Several students, encouraged again by faculty, sent a petition to the president demanding the younger Hughes be dismissed. Defeated in this, several faculty members held a kind of “trial” for young Hughes in which of course he lost. In the next chapel service, Henry Clay Morrison, the scheduled speaker, condemned this sort of improper disloyal behavior. Mortified at this public rebuke, six faculty and about 40 students left Asbury College. The strain of administration wore upon Hughes.
Also in December, Boyd, the first principal of Bellevue College, unaccountably resigned.
The Jessamine Journal reported that Hughes, borne down by the physical strain of maintaining the College and anxious to insure continuity to the work he had started, wanted to sell the College to a regular board of stockholders.
In the spring the Aconian Digest appeared, a short-lived literary magazine. Fred B. Fisher was the editor.
Because the college emphasized holiness, preparation for Christian service and a solid, respectable college education at modest cost and because it was greatly strengthened in this appeal by the work of friendly evangelists and The Pentecostal Herald, the College drew students from a wider circle than its relatively obscure location would otherwise have explained. In May, Mrs. Mary Hughes, wife of the founder, commented that one defect of a school with students from many places was the prevalence of home-sickness among them when they first arrived.
Fred B. Fisher, later a missionary bishop in India, graduated. Also in this year W. G. Cram, Class of 1898, sailed as a missionary to Korea.
On August 19 the first automobile arrived in Wilmore.
In the fall the Aconian Literary Society was divided into the Athenian and the Columbian.
These names, suggesting that the first society would devote itself to the “old learning,” and the second to the “new,” were suggested by Lewis R. Akers, an honor student.
In January the Asbury College Journal appeared, a new monthly publication and the first effective campus journal.
In February Asbury College hosted the Kentucky State YMCA Convention.
Hughes returned to his belief that the college should be operated by a regular board of trustees. People would be more willing to donate to an enterprise that was not someone’s personal property. A board would insure continuity. The little college had gone as far as it could under one person’s energy and drive. His own health was in jeopardy—and if he turned the school over to a board, he could spend more time among the young people, encouraging them in salvation and holiness. Hughes announced this plan at commencement.
In June he attended the National Holiness Camp Meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, for the first time. In the Catalog of 1903-1904, Hughes officially declared in favor of “co-education,” by which he meant men and women instructed together on the same campus. There were few co-educational institutions of higher learning in the world at the time, and the policy was controversial. Hughes was unmovable on the subject. Having studied this for 14 years, he was convinced that there was no better way for “developing a symmetrical character.”
On Jan. 2 the College was formally incorporated with a board of trustees. Five had been selected to form the original corporation, to which the property was transferred on Jan. 11. Ten more members were to be elected at the coming commencement, to form a total of fifteen. Twelve were to be clerical, three laymen. The board was to meet annually at commencement. The founding board members, who formed an “Executive Committee” until the full board was elected in May, were Hughes, C. M. Humphrey (pastor of the local Methodist Church), L.L. Pickett, W.T. Bourne and O.C. Garvey. All were from Wilmore, except Bourne, who lived in Nicholasville, the nearby county seat.
The real estate, buildings and equipment were appraised at $30,000. For these assets Hughes accepted $20,000, of which he promptly returned $5,000 as a donation and took $15,000 for himself, still a considerable sum which, of course, the local trustees did not have. The property was therefore mortgaged for that amount.
Hughes was certain that the news of incorporation would be “gratifying to the holiness people, and especially the friends of Asbury College,” who now could rest in the knowledge that the College had been transferred to “board ownership and management,” which made it the “property of the holiness people” and guaranteed “increased patronage and perpetuity.”
In February after prevailing prayer among the students, an unplanned revival broke out “like a thunderbolt” on campus.
At commencement, the Executive Committee, to bring the number to the prescribed 15, elected ten additional board members. Among the new members were W. L. Clark and A.P. Jones. Hughes was elected president for an additional year.
Controversy, which centered on Hughes, had arisen over time. Enrollment had been declining since 1901, for reasons which cannot be fathomed now, but Hughes may have been blamed at the time. In addition the building programs had caused debt–to which had just been added the cost of purchasing the property from Hughes. In any case, it is clear that by turning Asbury over to a board, Hughes did not intend to withdraw from active leadership. He expected to remain as president. Some board members had different ideas.
Some time after June, a friendly trustee warned Hughes that there was serious dissatisfaction with his leadership. This man also advised Hughes not to call a meeting of the board until all of the trustees could come. Hughes ignored this useful advice. He agreed to a meeting, in which a group led by L.L. Pickett ousted him when he stepped out of the room to answer the telephone. Francis Florian Fitch, a clergyman in Texas, was nominated and elected to replace him.
Hughes was thoroughly dispirited by this action on the part of his former partners in the work. He believed their action was illegal, but he opposed lawsuits between Christians on Scriptural principle. He accepted the decision. He even agreed to stay on in a subordinate capacity, but he left before acting on that part of the agreement.
In July the Kentucky State Legislature passed the Day Law, making it illegal to educate black and white students in the same institution on any educational level in both public and private schools.
In November Theodore Roosevelt, Republican, was elected President.
On Jan. 18, The Pentecostal Herald carried an article by L.L. Pickett entitled “A New President for Asbury College,” which introduced Fitch. The Feb. 8 issue carried a photograph of Francis F. Fitch as “President-Elect of Asbury.”
On Feb. 11, Fitch visited Wilmore and discussed ambitious plans for Asbury College, including being accredited by the North Central Association of Schools.
On Feb. 15 the new Board selected Hughes as Dean of the Theological Department. C.A. Bromley, a board member, was added to the faculty and L.L. Pickett was made “Financial agent,” to serve as official fund-raiser for the College.
Feb. 18, a new spirit of revival came over many people on campus. A student, E. Stanley Jones, who had enrolled in Asbury because of his admiration for Henry C. Morrison, was deeply moved and felt himself transformed by the Holy Spirit. Late in life Jones regarded it as “providential” that he had gone to Asbury College, where the key elements of Methodism, the “warmed heart” and the “world parish”—“experience and expression”—were emphasized.
Unaccountably, Fitch did not appear as scheduled to speak at the College commencement. There is no way to know now if he had second thoughts, but he must have known that the difficulties that overcame Hughes were still present.
The June 23 issue of the Jessamine Journal noted that the Rev. B.F. Haynes had been the guest of L.L. Pickett in Wilmore the week before.
Also in June John Wesley Hughes and two others left for an extended trip to Palestine.
On July 26 The Pentecostal Herald noted that “President F.F. Fitch, owing to a combination of circumstances,” had resigned. The Asbury College Executive Committee met and selected Benjamin Franklin Haynes to take his place. Hayes was founder and editor of the Tennessee Methodist and better still, had been president of Martin College for Young Ladies in Pulaski, Tennessee, for three years.
On July 14 The Jessamine Journal described him as “a bold advocate and defender of the faith and of the old doctrine of the Wesleys.”
In August Hughes returned to Wilmore. He was given a surprise community reception, which Haynes, among many others, attended and offered congratulations.
Haynes’ contract contained unusual elements. His academic mandate was unexceptional—to operate the College “to the best of his judgment along the lines of full salvation as maintained in its past history, giving prominence to salvation work always in preference to literary work.” But in financial matters the College almost became his private property. He was given the entire income of the school out of which he was to pay expenses, including maintenance. The grass, for instance, was to be mowed two or three times during the spring and summer, whether it needed it or not.
In the fall Asbury opened with a “sweet spirit” of revival. Less hopefully, Haynes learned that the financial problems at Asbury were serious.
Haynes may have conveyed his uneasiness to some of those around him. In any case, in December the Board received a petition from faculty and students asking that Haynes be retained. The Board agreed.
Henry Clay Morrison joined the Board.
Also in 1905, Bellevue College, having invested in several new buildings, went out of business.
In January Hughes’ reaction to his ouster set in, and he decided to make a fresh start elsewhere. He and his family moved to southwestern Kentucky where he started Kingswood College on property he purchased there.
Also in January board secretary C.M. Humphrey gave a financial report showing debt and mortgage, including the $11,833 owed to Hughes. To make payments to Hughes, the Board was forced to make additional loans. To raise $5,000, Pickett obtained $3,000 in personal loans from elderly friends, and $1,950 in notes from seven members of the Board, “because of the love they had for the cause.”
The winter revival was preached by student E. Stanley Jones. Sixty-eight persons proclaimed that they were called into Christian work, 30 more for missions overseas. The students themselves opened a Gospel mission on the corner of 5th and Woodard Avenues in Lexington and held evangelistic services there on Saturday nights. Jones and another student, W.P. Gillis, represented Asbury at the national convention of the Student Volunteers in Nashville.
In March, the new president reported that a new men’s residence hall was needed. Contrary to the College’s residential policy, twenty-five men were living off-campus. In addition, money was needed to help those who wanted to come to Asbury, but could not afford it.
The failure of Bellevue College brought an attractive property on the market. At commencement time Hayes announced that Asbury had purchased the facilities of Bellevue College, its property furniture and “good will” for $15,000. The two large brick buildings were to be used for girls’ residence halls. This created a separation of the genders in college life which Hayes, like most contemporary educators, favored. Asbury now operated the “Main Campus” on East Main Street, and the “Bellevue Campus” on North Lexington Avenue.
By the end of this school year Asbury had enrolled seventeen foreign students.
Fall enrollment at Asbury totaled 275 and included students from 20 states and five countries (Iran, Japan, Britain, Cuba and Canada).
The college Catalog, which appeared in the spring, devoted five pages to describing a great revival then in progress on campus. Even those students who were most opposed to “demonstrations” of emotion found themselves “suddenly and irresistibly possessed of a strange power impelling them to shout, rejoice, clap their hands and in diverse ways give expression to the overflowing ecstasy which thrilled their souls.”
E. Stanley Jones graduated. Already established as a leader among the student body, Jones soon gained national, and in a few years international fame, as an effective Christian missionary. Jones was convinced that the emphasis on world evangelism that had developed at Asbury was one of its great strengths. Writing in The Pentecostal Herald on June 5, he thanked God ”for the missionary revival that goes on at Asbury from September to June.”
Two weeks later, Henry Clay Morrison wrote in the Herald that the school year that was about to close at Asbury was “perhaps the greatest year in the history of Asbury College.” He also announced that he was moving to Wilmore, building a house and joining the faculty there. He was appointed vice-president of the college.
Starting in the fall term seniors were exempted from the mandatory daily Bible study which followed the mandatory daily chapel services. Henceforth seniors were obligated only to attend daily chapel. The rest of the students had to attend both services. H.C. Morrison, whose national fame as an orator and camp meeting evangelist insured him a prominent role in any activity in which he participated on campus, preached the fall revival. He started a series of lectures on preaching for the “theology students,” or those who intended to become pastors.
The first instrumental musical group—or at least the first to be officially noted, with a photograph taken—was formed. It consisted of nine young men and women, several of them children, seven with mandolins and two with guitars.
In December the Board re-elected Haynes as President. At the same meeting L.L. Pickett, the College’s official fund-raiser in the field, lamented that Asbury lacked loan money and student industries with which to help needy students.
Official records for this period do not remain, so details cannot now be known, but disappointment and anxiety seem to have clouded the life of B.F. Haynes for months. In the spring he resigned. On April 24 the Jessamine Journal announced that “at a recent meeting,” the Asbury Board of Trustees had accepted his resignation effective May 27. His departure left the management of affairs in the hands of the Vice President, H.C. Morrison. Professor Newton Wray was elected as Acting President for the coming year, 1908-1909.
At commencement William P. Gillis, President of the Student Volunteer Missionary Band, declared that 1907-1908 was “the most successful on missionary lives of any in the history of the College,” citing the range of new student activities devoted to missionary work. These included a weekly Sunday afternoon service, a weekly noontime prayer meeting that lasted 30 minutes, a monthly evening meeting, the creation of nine separate mission study groups and the donation of 35 books to the Library.
“Acting President” Newton Wray proved himself to be a kind, gentle man, a serious scholar, but not an administrator. He occasionally appeared to be absent-minded, which may account for his decision to give permission for three men to take dates to a lecture at the Methodist Church. This decision was regarded as a unimaginable liberty. The possibility of students dating—having “social privileges”—was not raised again for ten years. Happily, the bulk of academic supervision fell to Ezra T. Franklin, a 1903 graduate, who attended several universities after graduation and returned now as Superintendent of the Literary Department, a kind of proto-dean.
Franklin organized the college curriculum in a systematic way, giving the Academy a regular three-year program, and putting the college on a “solid four year basis.” The original grade scale was lowered so that minimum passing fell from 80 to 75. Classes were lengthened from 30 minutes to 45. Electives were introduced for the first time. The quarter-term calendar was adopted.
A “Drill Company” under “Captain Moore” was organized with 22 members and a drummer boy. The two literary societies filled their ranks by the simple process of “choosing up” by the leaders until the entire student body had been selected.
The first alumni reunion was held.
On Nov. 14-16 the Student Volunteer Missionary Band held its first formal “Missionary Rally” on campus. The students’ concept of diversity was not narrowly confined to foreign fields. Although most of the messages at the Rally were about foreign missionary service, the keynote address was “Our City Sisters” and urged support for missionary work among homeland slums. A number of students began evangelical and social welfare work among the neglected people of the hill country of Eastern Kentucky.
Also in November William Howard Taft, Republican, was elected President of the U.S.
In January, Asbury College began the year debt-free. L.L. Pickett had raised enough the year before to pay off the remaining mortgage. The total College property was appraised at $45,000.
The debt-free condition did not last. On March 18, a fire began in Music Hall around 6:40 a.m., while everyone was at breakfast. It soon spread to the Administration building. A bucket brigade formed, but proved helpless. The well-meaning, amateur firefighters soon abandoned the effort. A photograph of the fire, showing the spectators standing with their backs to the buildings, still clearly on fire, smiling towards the camera, appeared in The Asburian Golden Jubilee Edition 1940. The buildings were a total loss. When furniture, college supplies and students’ personal belongings were included, the loss was placed at between $40-50,000, of which no more than $22,000 was covered by insurance. Morrison, Pickett, Wray and others assured the Jessamine Journal that despite all, Asbury would continue.
Classroom work was moved to the Bellevue campus. The boys “doubled up” in what living space remained to them. The men students, pretending to be “looking for a new location for Asbury,” declared a holiday for themselves and spent the day at High Bridge.
All of this must have borne upon poor Wray, whose term as “Acting President” ended in fire and ruin. Later in March he resigned and left town in April. The board meeting on March 30 elected a new president, Aaron S. Watkins. He was a promising choice: vice president of Northern Ohio University and former candidate for vice president on the national Prohibition party ticket.
In April, the Pentecostal Herald carried an appeal from Will J. Harney, Asbury board member, for help in rebuilding the College. “She has turned out scores of red hot pastors, evangelists, missionaries, teachers and Christian workers.” Harney said the Herald readers must do their part to rebuild “this great soul-saving station,”—adding the sad reminder that Asbury had been completely out of debt before the fire.
At first, Wilmore was slow to respond to this sort of financial appeal—certainly too slow to satisfy Morrison, who was by now the leading light at Asbury. He and other college leaders announced that in view of the languid response of Wilmore, they would have to look elsewhere for a location for Asbury College.
This was not entirely a bluff. Several locations were considered, including Harrodsburg, Shakertown, St. Matthews (near Louisville), Ashland and Paintsville. Paintsville in fact launched a serious campaign to attract Asbury. In truth, however, Morrison was fond of Wilmore and believed the college should remain there for the same reasons that had prompted Hughes to locate there in the first place. In the past twenty years these reasons were strengthened by a sentimental attachment to a familiar location.
Morrison declared that Asbury would stay if Wilmore raised $15,000 for rebuilding on the new campus location. This appeal was enough. The leading businessmen and citizens had been genuinely alarmed by discussions of moving the college. A “mass meeting” of citizens was held May 18 in the Methodist Church, at which $13,000 was raised for the college. After a stirring address by Andrew Johnson, a charter board member, the rest of the $2,000 was pledged. Among some businessmen, doctrinal purity was not the only motive; business considerations played a role. W.B. Glass and H.H. Wetzel, both faithful Presbyterians, made large contributions.
In June a “Building Committee” of the board was formed. These men confirmed the decision to move the College to the Bellevue campus and contracted with an architect to plan a major new college building on the new property. The insurance money and funds pledged by Wilmore were wholly insufficient for expected moving and building costs, which included not only the central building but a new boys’ residence hall.
The Asbury Alumni Association was established on June 9, during commencement. Lewis R. Akers was the first president and Ezra Franklin vice president.
On June 11 the cornerstone for a new administration building was laid.
In July the Board building committee contracted with one of its own members, John F. Askins, to supply concrete and brick for the new building. Askins donated $5,000 worth of labor to the project and hired college boys to salvage and clean bricks from the ruins of the old campus for use in the new construction. In contrast, the new men’s residence hall, Wesley Hall, was to be built with new “white pressed brick.”
On August 25, The Pentecostal Herald carried Watkins’ personal Christian testimony.
During August and September foundations were laid for the new administration building and Wesley Hall. Like its predecessor on the old campus, the new administration building housed almost the entire college program—in the basement were laboratories and classrooms, on the first floor, the president’s office, library, reading room, and a chapel with balcony and gallery that could seat 1,000—a practical expression of Morrison’s cheerful view of future possibilities. The current enrollment was 212. On the second floor were more classrooms and the large open space at the top of the building was employed as “drill room,” gymnasium and lecture hall. The new building had steam heat and gas lighting.
In August, Henry Clay Morrison left on a world evangelistic tour.
Aaron S. Watkins, the new president, began work in the fall. As a qualified and experienced academic administrator, he introduced major reforms. Faculty committees were formed for the first time and given specific responsibilities. These were “Literary Societies, Receptions, Outings, Rules and Discipline, Catalog, Standing and Graduation, Literary Council and Entrance Board.”
Franklin was made academic dean and continued his program of curricular reform. He created a “Model School,” a remedial program for those who were not “common school” graduates or who needed review before further study. The “Model School” was clearly designed for older students. The first formal music degree program was established in the form of the new “Conservatory of Music.” The Missionary Rally became an annual event.
The administration started a series of lectures on the doctrine and experience of holiness. Attendance at these “Holiness Band Meetings” was compulsory. They were held every Monday evening except the first each month, which was reserved for the monthly Missionary Band meeting.
In the fall, Watkins, another debating society formed.
In late fall the College leadership decided to sell the original campus property to the Wilmore Real Estate Company which was formed for this purpose. On Nov. 12, the Jessamine Journal announced that a street was being put through the (old) Asbury campus, and lots would soon be for sale to the public. The Board was not consulted on this transaction. In fact the principals of the new Real Estate Company, Frank Arnold and A.P. Jones, were members of the Board themselves. Charges of conflict of interest were raised. These charges were brushed aside with the plea of necessity.