Think about it: Little Witcherville Arkansas could have become as big and populated as Fayetteville! But, alas! It was not to be.
When Buckner College opened its doors in Witcherville in 1882, it was called “the largest and most imposing structure in the State of Arkansas devoted to education.” The college was chartered in 1879 and began operation in 1882 as one of Arkansas’s earliest Baptist educational institutions.
The college was named in honor of William Buckner
(1818-1882), a longtime, outstanding western Arkansas to the Creek Nation who
had hopes of bringing students in from Indian Territory. The college’s founder was Reverend Ebenezer
L. Compere, the most famous Baptist clergyman in western Arkansas and the
eastern part of Indian Territory. He, along with a group of Witcherville
citizens, secured sufficient finances and the reluctant support of the Arkansas
Baptist State Convention.
In 1883, a large, three-story, frame structure was built.
It measured 60’x120’ and was three stories high and cost $15,000. (In contrast,
the students of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville were attending
classes in a two-story frame building [Old Main] measuring 24’ x 40’ and cost $975.) Buckner College contained an auditorium, six
classrooms and living quarters for the president and his family.
At the time, public education was something “that existed
merely on paper,” and few high schools existed in the state. Buckner’s curriculum varied but stressed
languages (Latin, Greek, French and German) and mathematics. Later, Botany and Zoology were offered but
without a lab to work in. The library consisted of only the personal books
belonging to the instructor.
Without sound financial planning and its isolated
location, the college began to lose the support of the Baptist Convention. Finally, the mortgage was sold to the
Episcopal Church. They had the same problems
as the Baptists and it was passed to the hands of the Presbyterians. It was mortgaged again and sold back to the
Baptists of the Concord and Buckner Associations in 1891. They tried to gain widespread support but the
convention decided to throw its support to the Ouachita College in Arkadelphia
instead. Measures were made to build
stone buildings on campus but never were completed. It was the beginning of the end.
The college was in disrepair and defunct by 1914. The facilities were sold to the local school
board. By 1919, Buckner College was just a dim memory. In 1930, the stonework from the unfinished
college building was sold and transported to Waldron where it was used to
construct the Pines Movie Theater.
The memory of Buckner College remains in a park by its
name and one native stone building and a newer community building. Imagine how this area would be so much
different had it been a successful endeavor.
The Key. Spring 1971