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Highland Home College

Joshua Shiver, Auburn University
Highland Home College in Highland Home, Crenshaw County, was a coeducational institution of higher learning that was in operation from 1856 until 1915. Originally called the Strata Academy and located in Montgomery County, it was later moved to Crenshaw County and renamed the Highland Home Institute and later Highland Home College. The school, the only one of higher learning in the county, was highly successful until the outbreak of World War I. Additionally, increased competition from established state colleges led to declining enrollments and its closure in 1915. The building that once housed the college became the Crenshaw County High School until it was demolished in 1959.
The school was founded by Justus McDuffie "Mack" Barnes who was later joined by two of his brothers-in-law. In 1856, Barnes, recently graduated from Bethany College in Virginia, returned to southwestern Montgomery County to found his own school. On September 8, 1856, Barnes opened the private coeducational institution Strata Academy on his father's property near Strata, which was located off present-day State Highway 331 near the border with Crenshaw County. The school's first class consisted of 13 students, including several scholarship students. The school did not turn down any applicants who could not afford to attend because its primary funding came from the Barnes family and tuition from those who could afford to pay.
From its beginning, the school's curriculum focused on science, foreign languages, mathematics, music, literature, drama, and religion. It was reported to have primarily trained teachers. Over the years, growing class sizes led to the construction of a new building just east of the family farm as well as the addition of two new teaching partners: Samuel Jordan in 1872 and Col. Milton L. Kirkpatrick in 1879, both of whom were brothers-in-law of Barnes. (Kirkpatrick had served in Company H of the 51st Alabama Cavalry Regiment under future senator John Tyler Morgan in the Confederate States Army and led the regiment in the last years of the Civil War.)
From 1879 to 1881, the continual spread of typhoid fever and "yellow chills" (likely yellow fever) led to waves of sickness and the deaths of three students. Seeking a healthier environment, Barnes, Kirkpatrick, and Jordan decided to move the school to a new location six miles south of their original location in nearby Crenshaw County. In 1881, after purchasing a 500-acre plot of land, new school buildings, dormitories, and homes were erected and the name was changed to the Highland Home Institute to reflect its location near the new town of Highland Home. The educational building was a two-story structure, the lower story of which was divided into four recitation rooms; the upper floor consisted of one large auditorium. It was thought to be the largest structure in the county at the time, at 100-feet long by 50-feet wide.
In 1889, the school's name was again changed, to Highland Home College, to reflect its emphasis on advanced education. Just three years later, in 1892, founding member Colonel Kirkpatrick died. In response to its increasing enrollments, in 1895, the Highland Home College Alumni Association was founded with 74 charter members enrolled. Though the school was successful, in 1898 Justus Barnes and his son Elly decided to leave the Highland Home College to found the Barnes School in nearby Montgomery, leaving Samuel Jordan as the school's last remaining founding member.
In March 1904, the main building of the Highland Home College burned to the ground from a fire that started, it was believed, on the roof. That summer, the school's administration planned a new building that would allow for the expansion of the student body to 250 and include steam heating, a physical laboratory, and a library. After receiving donations totaling $10,000, 49 acres of land, and two houses from the local community, the Highland Home College reopened to the public in 1905 with an enrollment of 225 students from all across the state.
At its peak, enrollment at the Highland Home College would reach 500 students. However, the onset of World War I and competition from more established state colleges and universities led to a gradual decline in enrollments, and by 1913 only 108 students were enrolled. By 1915, after the death of Barnes from a tragic automobile accident that year, Jordan was the only surviving founder of the school, still serving as the president of the Highland Home College. That same year, the school was forced to close its doors because of declining enrollments and in the spring of 1915, the school held its final commencement exercise before the property was sold off to the state of Alabama in the following year. In 1933, the last surviving founding member, Samuel Jordan, died.
In 1916, the former Highland Home College's main building became the Crenshaw County High School, which remained in operation in its present location until 1936 when a new brick building was erected for the high school adjacent to the former property. The old Highland Home College building was converted into an elementary school, operating until a new elementary school building was erected and in 1959 the original Highland Home College building was demolished. Eventually, the name of Crenshaw County High School was changed to Highland Home High School, and it is still in operation.
A historic marker erected in front of the high school in 1977 by the Barnes, Jordan, Kirkpatrick Memorial Association notes the former location of the college. Kirkpatrick's home still exists and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Bradley House and Kirkpatrick House in 1975 for its role in the history of the school. It sits across State Highway 331 from the high school. Constructed sometime prior to 1870, it is a rectangular, two-story, four-chimney, frame structure. A one-story L-shaped wing was added in 1919. With the exception of typical exterior maintenance, the exterior was unchanged as of the 1975 listing. It is the oldest structure in the community.
Published:  December 4, 2018   |   Last updated:  December 4, 2018