Centre Connections: A page from Anaconda Literary Club history

Posted by Centre News in News 17 Dec 2014

anacondaOn Dec. 27, 1839, Centre College President John C. Young and seven other Danville men gathered in the home of John A. Jacobs, head of what is now called the Kentucky School for the Deaf, to form the Danville Literary and Social Club, also known as “Anaconda.” One hundred and seventy-five years later, the club “has survived the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Kardashian reality television series,” as one speaker noted at the club’s recent anniversary celebration.

The Danville Literary and Social Club is the oldest such institution west of the Alleghenies, though a number of similar literary clubs were formed later in Cincinnati, Louisville and other mid-western cities. Many past members who have moved away, called “the Anaconda Diaspora,” returned for the milestone anniversary, along with spouses and friends of current members.

The club still operates under the constitution approved in 1839—though 30 years ago it voted to dispense with the after-dinner cigars. Because Anaconda was formed 36 years before telephones arrived in Danville, members continue the tradition of communicating only through the post.

Although Anaconda has never been a part of the College, Centre people have always been prominent in its membership. Every Centre president, including John A. Roush, has been a member, except for Richard Morrill. Two of Centre’s current life trustees, Judge Pierce Lively and Nelson D. Rodes Jr., have been members for a total of 115 years. The club secretary is Milton Reigelman, acting Centre president before Roush arrived. Bill Breeze (another other former Centre acting president), Professor Dan Stroup and Centre Trustee Dr. Thomas R. Baeker are also members.

The 175th anniversary celebration was held at Cambus-Kenneth farm, the historic Boyle County property once owned by Dr. Ephraim McDowell (a founding Centre trustee) and now owned by Centre Trustee Elizabeth Kennan Burns and her husband, Michael Burns, a club member. The menu for the evening, researched by chef David Larson, was based on meals served at the club’s 50th and 100th anniversaries—though the traditional eight courses were reduced to five. The evening began with oysters Rockefeller and included breast of pheasant in a mushroom Mornay sauce on chive waffle and broiled grapefruit with Cointreau and burned sugar.

In his welcoming remarks, member Logan Germann compared the Burns hospitality to that of television’s Lord and Lady Grantham, saying that “never was a finer event hosted by Downton Abbey.”

During each of the 14 meetings held each year, two members read essays prepared in advance on topics selected the prior year. This year’s topics include Scottish Independence, Shakespeare’s Kings, Pilgrimages, Thomas/Tom Wolfe, and Czars and Czarinas: Peter & Catherine. Recent topics have included Da Vinci, Tea Party Conservatism, Dr. Seuss, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Wendell Berry, the American Bloomsbury, What the Fracking, and Food, Fuel and Carbon Footprint.

The minutes of the Danville Literary and Social Club as well as many related items are housed in the Rare Book Room and Archives at Centre, named for Thomas A. Spragens, an Anacondan during his tenure as Centre president, 1957-1981.

Above photo: The Danville Literary and Social Club, also known as “Anaconda,” recently gathered to celebrate its 175th anniversary.