The Beginning of a Tradition
People began going to college in East Central Georgia one hundred and twenty years ago today. And, they are still going to colleges in places like Dublin, Swainsboro, Eastman, Sandersville, Mt. Vernon/Ailey, and Cochran, where the first college in the area opened its doors on January 10, 1887.
The leading men of the Ebenezer Baptist Association saw the need for a junior college to serve the needs of the growing areas of Laurens, Telfair, Dodge and Pulaski counties. Each county was asked to submit a proposal. Both Eastman and Cochran shared the same railroad, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad. Laurens County did not have a railroad in place in the beginning of 1886. Railroads were critical to the development of a community. And, at the time, it appeared that Dublin and Laurens County, which did not submit a bid, appeared to be not as progressive. As it turned, things would change. Laurens County became a regional center of economic, business and cultural activity. Dodge prospered during the era of mass production of timber and cotton. Pulaski lost a substantial part of its northeastern territory to a new county, Bleckley in 1912. And, it was in the future county seat of Cochran, where the association decided to establish a college, which would be called New Ebenezer College.
John T. Rogers, of Reedy Springs Baptist Church in Laurens County, joined Jonathan Knowles, Charles Parker and J.G. Wright in forming an exploratory committee to begin preparations for the funding of the project and the acquisition of sufficient lands. Doctors P.A. Jessup and T.D. Walker, Sr. got on board and convinced P.L. Peacock and J.E. O’Berry of Cochran to donate the land for the thirteen-acre, ten thousand-dollar facility.
The association appointed P.L. Peacock, T.D. Walker, Sam Mayer, W.J. Mullis, and J.G. Wright to head the building committee. The committee chose Michael O’Brien, of Hawkinsville, who based the school’s design on one of his favorite colleges in Ireland. E.B. Parker, J.G. Wright, John T. Rogers, M.L. Burch, T.D. Walker, and Jonathan Noles were selected to serve as the school’s first Board of Trustees.
The cornerstone laying ceremony was held on July 22, 1886 under the auspices of the local Masonic Lodge. J. Emmett Blackshear, the lodge’s Worshipful Master, presided over the grand observance.
One hundred and twenty five years ago today on January 10, 1887, the doors of New Ebenezer College opened its doors to approximately one hundred students in a hall across the street from the First Baptist Church of Cochran. Palemon J. King presided over the new school. Professor King, a large and powerfully built man, was already a well-respected school leader from Shelby, North Carolina and would gain wide recognition in Rome, Georgia. King, a graduate of Mercer and a former soldier in the Confederate army, came highly recommend by school officials in Cave Springs and Shorter College.
Within a few months, the students moved into the first permanent building on campus, a two-story structure.
Initial tuition rates that first semester were $2.00 per month for primary courses, $3.00 per month intermediate classes, $4.00 per month for music classes and $5.00 per month for college classes per month. By the way, it would cost you the mere pittance of $12.00 per month to board in the house with the principal.
The college’s curriculum included mathematics, history, Latin, Greek, elocution and English as well as courses in vocal and instrumental music. Eventually courses in art, business and military science were offered. Captain Isaac E. Neff took charge of the military school and established what was called the “Broom Brigade,” who dressed in bright and colorful Zouave uniforms.
College officials guaranteed that each boy and girl who attended would be thoroughly prepared for the best colleges and universities.
Perhaps the college’s most well known professor was Lucy Mae Stanton, who taught art during the 1893-1894 term. Stanton was one of Georgia’s most widely heralded female artists of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
J.M. King succeeded Palemon J. King in 1888. Other principals of the college during its eleven-year history were: W.B. Seals (90-93,) E.M. Turner (93-96,) A.M. Duggan (96-97,) and finally W.E. Jenkins (97-98).
Former graduate and long time Cochran attorney, Lucian A. Whipple, Sr. once hailed New Ebenezer College as a “beacon light” for that section of thee state. Whipple maintained that the college contributed greatly to the economic development of the region between Macon to Brunswick, where there were few if any high schools.
By the mid 1890s, the association’s support for Ebenezer College began to wane. In an election to provide local funding, Cochran residents voted down the measure to support, “The Pride of Cochran.”
When the New Ebenezer College closed, the facilities were taken over by the Cochran school system, with Dr. Jessup and Dr. Walker, two of the school’s most ardent boosters, joining others in taking over the college’s outstanding debt. After nearly twenty years, Cochran High School moved to a new location and once again, the school buildings were abandoned.
During the years of World War I, both Cochran and Dublin competed for the location of the newly created 12th Congressional District Agricultural and Mechanical School. Despite the greater resources in Dublin, Cochran was awarded the location of school, which opened on the first Monday in October 1919.
After only eight years of operation, the Georgia Legislature adopted a law which changed the name of the school to Middle Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical College. Two years later, the name was shortened to Middle Georgia College.
So, now you know a little history of the tradition of the one time Baptist school which evolved into one of our areas most important resources. And, it all began, one hundred and twenty five years ago today.