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Bolton College

Shelby County, Tennessee



The John C. Hodges Library of the University of Tennessee provided a scan of the 1913-14 Bulletin.  Excerpts and images from Catherine Wilson’s History of Bolton High School are included in the Born and Raised in the South Blog.  Memphis University has placed the 1890-91 bulletin online.


Bolton College is the result of the will of Wade Hampton Bolton, a prominent Shelby County plantation owner and slave trader.  Before his death in 1869, Bolton provided 300 acres of land to the trustees of the free schools of Shelby County “for the purpose of erecting a college of learning on the same, and hereby give and donate ten thousand dollars for the purpose of erecting and building a college of learning on the same, to be called Bolton College.” 


Bolton College opened on September 3, 1888 with 94 students and four teachers.  One teacher taught primary students; one taught intermediate students; one taught music; the principal, B. H. Malone, taught the collegiate course.


By 1890 enrollment had reached 200, a relatively stable figure for a number of years.  The faculty now numbered five. The long commencement program suggests that the focus of Bolton College was liberal arts.  The program contained no fewer than thirteen musical numbers—both vocal and instrumental—and seventeen orations or declamations.  At the end of the program, gold medals were awarded for oratory, essay writing, and music. The newspaper account makes no mention of graduates.


In both 1903 and 1904 Bolton College had entries in the Interscholastic Declamation Contest, held at Vanderbilt University.



In January 1911 Bolton College was merged into a new agricultural high school.  Bolton College maintained secondary and collegiate work above eighth grade—in effect becoming the academic department of the merger.  It focused on English, literature, Latin, and music.  The agricultural high school focused on scientific agriculture, mechanical arts and related subjects such as horticulture and botany.  The bulletin shows two literary societies—Hansonian and J.P. Young along with Chapters of “Girls’ Tomato Club” and “Boys’ Corn Club.”


According to the historical marker, in 1925 the cash-strapped Bolton College “was converted to a regular high school.”  Thus, it remains today—an accredited Shelby County school of more than 2,000 students.

(Left) Historical marker on the school ground is from 

Inage by  Duane and Tracy Marsteller. 

Bricks and Mortar

In June, 1887 the Memphis Daily Appeal reported that a bid had gone out to all brickmakers that 600,000 bricks—more or less—were required for the construction of the Bolton College building.  The site of the new school was to be the Hoboken Place—twenty acres of land that included Bolton’s former home.


The building, a “handsome brick structure,” was two stories with a spire.  It contained three study halls and “several recitation rooms.”  In addition, there was an office for the president and one for the trustees.  The 1890 commencement mentions an assembly hall that was much too small.  There were plans for a two-story brick “hotel” to house those students who were not from the area.  There was also to be a seven-room building for the president and trustees.  Land to support the school was increased to 1,200 acres.


In 1925 the building became home for Bolton High School.  The historical marker notes that the school was “completely rebuilt” in 1978.


The bulletin notes that because athletics promoted healthy bodies, “the girls play tennis and basket ball; the boys baseball and football.   It further states, “Bolton teams won some signal victories over neighboring teams,” a claim that can’t be proved by existing records.


In 1912 Bolton played the West Tennessee Normal School (now University of Memphis), losing 13-0.  College Football Data Warehouse shows no games in 1913.  A five-game schedule in 1914 provided one win.  Bolton split games with Haywood County High School, winning 16-9 and losing 36-14. Bolton again lost to West Tennessee Normal 13-9.  Central High School of Memphis and the Fourth District Agricultural School of Jonesboro (now Arkansas State University) defeated Bolton 73-0 and 63-0, respectively.

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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