The Story Behind the Name: Bingham Hall
This article originally appeared in the spring 2017 issue of Centrepiece, Centre College’s alumni magazine.
Cowan Dining Commons, Young, Crounse, Sutcliffe, Breckinridge … Today, these names are simply places where we go to learn chemistry or philosophy, to work out, to meet a professor or hang with a friend. But before they were attached to particular buildings, these names belonged to real people whose close ties to Centre reveal fascinating stories.
As the College wends its way toward its bicentennial in 2019, it seems timely to recall the people who lent their names to campus landmarks, including Bingham Hall.
For nearly three decades, Bingham Hall has stood as a significant addition to Centre College.
When it was completed in 1988, the 50-student residence hall relieved a severe campus housing shortage. Enrollment was just beginning its climb from 804 to 1,430 today.
Equally important, the building has been a tribute to its donors, Barry Bingham Sr. and his wife, Mary C. Bingham. Barry Bingham died in 1988, Mary Bingham in 1995.
As the owners of a renowned Louisville media empire, the Binghams were viewed as Kentucky’s royal family. They enjoyed wealth and power, but they also grappled with the tragic deaths of two sons and the sale of their empire to end a family dispute.
At the time of the sale, the Binghams said they wished to use the proceeds to benefit Louisville, the city they loved and had spent their lives trying to enhance. The Bingham Fund they established provided a $1 million gift to Centre for a new residence hall. In 1990, Mrs. Bingham received one of the first two Associates Awards and told the gathering at the first Centre Associates Dinner that she and her husband believed the College had produced a disproportionate number of influential Louisvillians.
In its golden era, the Bingham holdings included the Courier-Journal, a morning newspaper ranked among the nation’s 10 best; the Louisville Times, an innovative afternoon paper; a TV station; two radio stations; and a printing company. The newspapers won eight Pulitzer Prizes. Journalists flocked to Louisville.
The great sports writer Dave Kindred spent 12 years there before leaving for the Washington Post in 1977. “I had decided I’d never leave except to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or the Washington Post,” he later wrote in Louisville’s weekly Voice-Tribune. “Anything else would be a step down from the Courier-Journal.”
Judge Robert Worth Bingham bought the Courier-Journal and Times in 1918. It would be run as a “public trust,” he said. Barry Sr. succeeded his father in 1937; his son, Barry Jr., took over in 1971.
By taking slim newspaper profits, the Binghams could deliver the Courier-Journal to all of Kentucky’s 120 counties, making it one of the state’s most powerful institutions.
It takes money to do great journalism, and the Binghams were not cheap. Bingham Hall is evidence of that.
by Art Jester
March 21, 2017