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“Be noble! and the nobleness that lies in other men, sleeping but never dead, will rise in majesty to meet thine own.”-Lowell.
On Sabbath afternoon, March 13, 1910, as we left the chapel at the close of a very delightful and profitable Bible Memory service, a cloud of black smoke was seen moving rapidly around the buildings across the view before us and suggesting a fire in one of the buildings. It was a sad and sickening surprise. Quickly the word was passed, “The Girls’ Hall is on fire.” Rushing into this building to locate and if possible to suppress the conflagration, we found it had originated on the third floor, and that a tub of water had already been applied to it by attendants in the building, without any hope of checking it, as the flames were spreading rapidly over the dry roof, fanned by a strong breeze from the west. The roof was inaccessible both from the inside and the outside, and in a very few minutes both sides of it were covered with a fiery sheet of low, devouring flame similar to that occasionally seen, when fire sweeps rapidly over ground covered with dry underbrush.
In a very little while the entire building was consumed, and with it the laundry, smokehouse, old log house, new woodhouse, stock tank, ten rods of the campus fence, fifteen cords of wood, the food supplies on hand and nearly all the furniture and equipment of the Girls’ Hall, the home of the institution.
A fair estimate of the loss sustained is as follows: Girls’ Hall 36×56, $2550: contents, $1175; other buildings and contents, $250; total $3975.
The girls rooming on the second story, obedient to instruction, hastened to their rooms and secured all their effects, but six that were rooming on the third story lost their trunks and extra clothing.
It is impossible to describe how deeply was felt the loss of everything at this time, coming as it did so soon after the loss of the Boys’ Hall in 1908. It had been the comfortable home of the Oak Hill family since 1889. To the superintendent it meant not merely the loss of the property, a kind of loss that is always more or less deeply felt, but a check of several years upon plans outlined for the permanent improvement of the work of the institution.
This loss was a staggering blow to the superintendent until he learned the next day that the matron, Miss Weimer, with the co-operation of Miss Hall, was willing to practice the self denial needed to make a heroic effort to recover from it. When this information was received, twenty of the larger girls were constrained to remain, while the rest were sent home. Some of these were provided for in the second story of an addition to the academy building, then nearly completed, and the school room under it served for a dining room and kitchen. The school work was resumed the next day, under Miss Hall with student assistants. The girls that remained proved helpful in executing the extra work then necessary, and the experience of self denial no doubt proved a profitable one to them.
The old log farm house 46×16 feet, was the last of the four Oak Hill buildings to yield to the flames. It was built by the Choctaw Indians about the year 1840, soon after they were transferred from Mississippi. It was very substantially constructed and by skilled workmen, who no doubt came from Fort Towson. The Girls’ Hall stood between it and the well, indicated by the aeromotor east of it.
This building was the pioneer home of the academy. The stages of progress in its use were as follows. The native school was transferred to it in 1884. Eliza Hartford began to occupy it in 1886, first as a day school, and three months later as her home with a boarding school. In the fall of 1887, a kitchen was added to the west end of it, and it was then used as a home for the teachers and girls, and the school was transferred to the new school building. Two years later it became a dormitory for the boys. After 1895 it was used for storage, a smith and carpenter shop. The picture showing it on fire is from a photograph taken by Miss Weimer, after the roof had fallen and the Girls’ Hall was entirely consumed.
The erection of the fine building known as Elliott Hall, was made possible by the receipt of a gift of $5,000 from Mr. David Elliott, of LaFayette, Indiana, who expressed the desire that a school might be established among the Freedmen that would be a memorial of Alice Lee Elliott, deceased, his previously devoted wife. It was dedicated to her memory on June 13, 1912.
Elliott Hall is now the commodious and comfortable home of the Oak Hill family. It provides a convenient office for the superintendent, library and reception room, places for the boarding and laundry departments, rooms and bath rooms for the girls. It occupies a beautiful and commanding position on the gentle elevation known as Oak Hill. It stands on the very site previously occupied by the old log house, but parallel with the survey lines. It forms a center around which all other needed buildings can be conveniently and permanently located.
Elliott Hall is the largest and finest of the buildings hitherto erected at the academy, and the first of the larger ones to be built by the local Freedmen. This noteworthy achievement, occurring so soon after the reopening in 1905, and the introduction of industrial training in the shop as well as on the farm, is suggestive of the real and substantial progress made by the young men.
It is also an encouragement to every patron of this institution, for it practically illustrates the progress that may be made by every thoughtful and industrious youth. In view of the fact that there are few or no opportunities for the young Freedmen to learn carpentry and painting elsewhere in its vicinity, this achievement becomes one in which every Freedman may justly manifest a laudable pride and express devout thanksgiving.
The memorial offering of Mr. Elliott, that made it possible, is the largest individual donation yet made to this institution. It came at a time of our saddest and greatest need. It is a gift to be very greatly appreciated. Every Freedman in the region of country benefited and blessed by this institution, may well be profoundly thankful for this manifestation of personal interest in your intellectual and material welfare.
Mrs. Alice Lee Elliott, in memory of whom Elliott Hall and the Oak Hill Industrial Academy were named in 1910, was the faithful and devoted wife of David Elliott, an elder of the Spring Grove Presbyterian Church near LaFayette, Indiana. She was the daughter of John and Maria Ritchey, who left Ohio soon after their marriage to found a new home of their own on the frontier in Indiana. She was born, January 7, 1846, and was called to her rest in her sixty-first year, June 27, 1906.
She received a good education in her youth and her marriage occurred March 2, 1875. Three years later she became a member of the Dayton Presbyterian Church, of which her husband was already a member, and at once became an earnest and zealous Christian worker.
When in later years Mr. and Mrs. Elliott transferred their membership to Spring Grove Presbyterian Church, because their services were more greatly needed there, she became a very successful teacher in the Sabbath school and an enthusiastic leader in their missionary work.
She was amiable and winsome. Although she lived amid the surroundings of wealth, she was the constant friend and helper of all classes. Her home was always a delightful retreat for the ministers of the gospel and those who represented worthy causes of benevolence and charity. The Bible, the favorite family Church paper and the missionary magazine were always on the center table and read regularly.
She was animated with the noble desire to be eminently useful and took advantage of every opportunity to benefit and bless others. Others were captivated and enthused by her happy, hopeful spirit, and have accorded to her this beautiful tribute, “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.”
When her voice became silent and her eyelids closed in death it seemed to her surviving husband that she was worthy and the world would be made better by the erection of a living or useful, as well as granite memorial. Accordingly when her last earthly resting place was duly marked with an appropriate granite memorial, he made a donation of $5000 to the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, for the establishment of an educational institution for the benefit of the colored people of this land that should bear her name.
After the loss by fire of two of the main buildings at Oak Hill Industrial Academy in 1908 and 1910, this fund was used for the erection of a main building-Elliott Hall-and the school has since been called the Alice Lee Elliott Memorial.
The Bible and shorter catechism are to be regularly and faithfully taught to all pupils, as fundamental in the development of a good moral character. The hope is indulged that the beautiful story of her unselfish and eminently useful life will prove an incentive to constant, noble endeavor on the part of every one that enjoys the privileges of the institution that now bears her honored name.
Other friends who have it in mind to leave a legacy to this greatly needed institution, will do well to consider the propriety, if possible, of sending the funds to the Freedmen’s Board while living, as Mr. Elliott did, and receive from the Board, if desired, an endowment bond bearing interest payable annually to the donor, during the continuance of the donor’s life. By this arrangement the gift becomes a profitable source of annual support to the donor, and an immediate benefit to the institution, without costs and discounts.
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