Throughout history, Centre has remained steadfast in its mission of providing superior education in the liberal arts tradition.
A Present Enriched by the Past
Centre College was founded by Presbyterian leaders and officially chartered by the Kentucky Legislature on January 21, 1819. The name reflects the College’s location in the geographic center of Kentucky; British spellings were common at the time.
HISTORY OF THE COLLEGE
Instruction began in Old Centre—the College’s first building—in the fall of 1820, with a faculty of two and a student body of five. Classes followed the classical curriculum of the day, including Latin, Greek, rhetoric, and logic. Construction on Old Centre began in 1819 and was completed in 1820 at a cost of $8,000. It was designed to hold up to 400 students in the College and also a grammar school. It has been used continuously since Centre’s beginning and today houses administrative offices as well as meeting rooms and the Admission Office’s reception area for prospective students. Despite early financial hardships, disputes within and outside of the Presbyterian Church, and several wars (including the occupation of Old Centre by both Confederate and Union troops during the Civil War), Centre has remained open and committed to its educational mission since its founding.
The roots of the College lie deep in the history of the region. Eighteenth-century Presbyterians, eager for an educated clergy and educated people to teach their children, began laying the groundwork for the establishment of a college in what was then the Kentucky County of Virginia. At the same time, the Revolutionary War was being fought and the region west of the Allegheny Mountains was being settled out of wilderness. In 1780, the Virginia Assembly set aside 8,000 acres of land for this “seminary of learning.” Three years later, a board of trustees met at John Crow’s Station to organize the school. Instruction began at the Transylvania Seminary near Danville in 1785. But the seminary fell on hard financial times. Unable to raise proper funding in the small community of Danville, the trustees moved the school to the larger settlement of Lexington in 1789. By 1794, the founding group of Presbyterians, alarmed by what it viewed as secular philosophies invading public institutions, moved to establish a more Christian school near Pisgah, Kentucky. The Kentucky Academy opened in 1795, funded by donations from the faithful. George Washington and John Adams gave $100 each to the new school, and Aaron Burr donated $50. By 1819, the Presbyterians began to realize that they had again lost control of their institution and its board of trustees. Once more they petitioned the Kentucky Legislature for a charter, and Centre College was established.
Throughout its long history, Centre has been supported and enhanced by its alumni, who have taken positions of prominence and usefulness in a variety of fields. Centre alumni include two U.S. vice presidents, one Chief Justice of the United States, an associate justice of the Supreme Court, and at least 13 U.S. senators, 43 U.S. representatives, and 11 state governors. Other Centre alumni have been and are leaders in a variety of fields, including teaching, business, medicine, law, and journalism. Centre alumni are widely known as the most loyal in the nation, for years leading all of America’s colleges and universities in the percentage who give financial support each year. In 1997, Centre completed a capital campaign that raised more than $76 million.
As the College heads toward its bicentennial in 2019, it continues to thrive and grow, with enrollment in fall 2016 numbering about 1,400 and the faculty about 135. The first Posse students arrived from Boston in 2006. The first Grissom Scholars, first-generation college students awarded a highly competitive scholarship, arrived in 2015. The first Lincoln Scholars, who possess “the capacity and deep desire to change the world,” arrived in 2016. By the fall of 2016, about 19 percent of students from the United States were students of color. Approximately six percent were international students.
In 2016, the campus includes approximately 178 acres. Many of our buildings are new or newly renovated. Brockman Residential Commons opened in August of 2012. A $21 million addition and renovation to Young Hall, one of two science buildings, opened in 2010. The new Campus Center opened in 2009. A state-of-the art residence hall, Pearl Hall, opened in fall 2008 and was dedicated in 2009. A multi-million-dollar project to expand, renovate, and unify Crounse Hall/Grace Doherty Library (the primary academic building on campus) and Sutcliffe Hall (the primary athletic facility) was dedicated in the fall of 2005. The current Third Century campaign seeks to raise $200 million by the time it concludes January 21, 2019, the 200th anniversary of Centre’s founding.
Centre College and its people have had much to be proud of and thankful for in the past: outstanding leaders who demonstrated a consistent preference for quality over quantity, generations of devoted teachers and students, and an exceptionally successful body of alumni. But equally important among these qualities is a sense of connection with the past, giving added meaning to the present and providing inspiration for this tradition to be continued in the future.