By JIMMY BRYANT
The University of Central Arkansas has been educating students in Conway since 1908.
The Conway townspeople who worked so hard to acquire the Arkansas State Normal School (now the University of Central Arkansas) for Conway knew the primary reasons the college was located here.
However, separated by more than 100 years of time, many people today may not be aware of all the factors that were taken into account when the first Board of Trustees made its decision to make Conway the home of the Arkansas State Normal School.
Arkansas State Normal School was created by Act 317 of 1907 which was passed by the Arkansas General Assembly on May 14, 1907. The members of the first Board of Trustees were appointed the next day, May 15, 1907, by acting Governor X.O. Pindall.
The duly elected governor was Governor John Sebastian Little, who had won election in 1906, but suffered a physical and emotional breakdown two days after he was inaugurated.
Unable to carry out the duties of governor, Little left the state of Arkansas for the Texas Gulf Coast to try and regain his health, but his health never improved. The governorship then fell to the president pro tempore of the Arkansas Senate, Xenophon Overton Pindall.
Acting Governor Pindall served out the remainder of Governor Little’s term.
Section 2 of Act 317 called for the creation of a board of seven people.
The first UCA Board of Trustees included Senator Otis T. Wingo, Burr Walter Torreyson, superintendent of the Little Rock Schools; J.S. Ross, former county judge of Desha County; J.L. Ponder, an attorney from Walnut Ridge; A.E. Moore, state auditor; James L. Yates, state treasurer, and J.J. Doyne, superintendent of public instruction.
Two of those serving on the first Board of Trustees became presidents of UCA, J.J. Doyne, UCA’s first president and Burr Walter Torreyson, UCA’s second president.
The title of Act 317 was "An Act to provide for the establishment and maintenance of a State Normal School for the State of Arkansas." While Act 317 called for the establishment of the Arkansas State Normal School, it did not stipulate what Arkansas city would be the home of the school.
The Board of Trustees was given the responsibility of selecting a city in which to build the school. Section 7 of Act 317 gave the Board the authority to choose the city best suited for the school; however, there were some requirements set forth in Section 7 that had to be satisfied.
According to Section 7 of Act 317, "Said board shall provide for the location of the normal school in the city of the State that is, in their opinion, best adapted for such purposes, provided that no donation shall be considered which does not include the offer of at least 20 acres of land to be used as a site and further provide the sum of $15,000 for the construction of proper buildings and proper improvement of site selected."
An important factor in the location of the school was which town would provide the best inducements. Several Arkansas cities wanted the Arkansas State Normal School and offered bids that were, for the most part, a combination of money and land.
The cities that made bids were Benton, Fort Smith, Russellville, Quitman and Conway.
According to Ted Worley, author of "A History of the Arkansas State Teachers College:" "Benton offered $50,000 and the choice of three tracts of land, containing 40, 80, and 100 acres. Fort Smith offered the same amount in cash and the choice of three tracts, each containing 20 acres. Russellville’s bid was $36,000 and the choice of three pieces of land of 50, 70 and 100 acres. Quitman offered the plant of Quitman College together with 22 acres estimated to be worth $45,000.
"Conway bid $51,753 in cash and the pick of three tracts of 20 to 80 acres.
"In a supplementary offer, Conway bound itself to provide such water supply as might be necessary, a septic tank, electric light connections, concrete sidewalks from town to the normal grounds, and a strip of ground on the north side of the campus 50-feet wide and about one-eighth mile long for street purposes."
Worley further stated that the reason Conway’s bid was slightly higher than that of Benton and Fort Smith had to do with a Conway citizen who overheard a conversation on a train.
Supposedly, someone from Conway was riding a passenger train and overheard a Benton woman state that Benton was offering $50,000 for the Arkansas State Normal School. Once the Conway resident returned to town he or she let it be known to the committee working to acquire the Normal School for Conway what had been overheard on the train. Accordingly, Conway increased its bid slightly to be above that of Benton.
There were other reasons that Conway was chosen for the location of the Normal School.
The following is from the 1908 Arkansas State Normal School Bulletin. "Conway is a thriving town of 3,500 inhabitants, located 30 miles west of Little Rock on the Fort Smith and Little Rock Railroad with three passenger trains daily each way, affording every convenience in the way of accessibility."
Transportation is important now and it was important at that time. People traveling between towns most often rode the train, so having three trains a day in each direction was a big plus for Conway.
Another factor in locating the Normal School here was the atmosphere of the community.
Conway was seen as a town where the residents adhered to Christian principles.
According to the 1908 Arkansas State Normal School Bulletin, "Hendrix College, the leading Methodist institution in the state, with an attendance mainly of young men, and Central College, the only Baptist institution in the State exclusively for young ladies, are located here and enjoy a good patronage. The moral tone of the community is of a high order. The sale of intoxicants is prohibited, and the effort of the citizens to drive from the town those of immoral and depraved habits has been in large measure successful. The leading denominations have churches here, and the attendance on the same indicate that a Christian sentiment pervades the community."
When the Arkansas State Normal School was dedicated on Sept. 23, 1908, the principal speaker was George Washington Donaghey, Conway resident and governor elect of Arkansas.
According to the Log Cabin Democrat, "In his address on behalf of the city Mr. Donaghey recounted the various achievements of Conway in securing educational institutions and told how these institutions had developed and broadened the town along moral, mental and financial lines.
"In a few well-chosen words he then tendered to the board of trustees and through them to the people of Arkansas, the new building and its beautiful 80-acre campus, a $60,000 gift from the city and county to the state."
Other speakers that day included Judge Ponder of the Board of Trustees; Dr. Butterick of the general education board; Sen. Otis T. Wingo, who sponsored the legislation that created the Arkansas State Normal School and who served on the first Board of Trustees; President Stonewall Anderson of Hendrix College, and President W.W. Rivers of Central College. Both President Anderson and President Rivers showed their support for the new school during their short speeches.
When Senator Wingo spoke, he praised the citizens of Conway for supporting education.
According to the Log Cabin Democrat, "Senator Wingo in a short but eloquent address accepted the gift (the gift of the Arkansas State Normal School building and grounds) on behalf of the Board of Trustees and was unstinted in his praise to the people of Conway for their liberality toward educational institutions and for the magnificent fight they put up in order to secure the location of the Normal.
"He predicted a bright future for Conway and was liberally applauded at the conclusion of his address."
Author’s Note: The University of Central Arkansas was known as Arkansas State Normal School, 1907 – 1925; Arkansas State Teachers College, 1925 – 1967; State College of Arkansas, 1967 – 1975 and University of Central Arkansas, 1975. Sources for this article were 1907 Acts of Arkansas, Arkansas State Normal School Bulletins, Log Cabin Democrat, "A History of Arkansas State Teachers College" by Ted Worley, "The Centennial History of the University of Central Arkansas" by Jimmy Bryant and "The Governors of Arkansas" edited by Timothy P. Donovan, Willard B. Gatewood Jr. and Jeannie M. Whayne.