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Franklin College

New Athens, Ohio



The History of Higher Education in Ohio (1891) by George W. Knight and John R. Commons contains an extended sketch of Franklin College written by its president Rev. W. A. Williams.  Many of the school’s activities were covered by the Wheeling (WV) Register.  The basketball image came from the Southeastern Ohio Digital Shoebox Project.



Franklin College was founded in 1818 by John Walker a Presbyterian minister.  Originally called Alma College, it was intended to “instill religious and abolitionist beliefs” in the young men of Eastern Ohio.  One of the oldest colleges in Ohio, it was incorporated as Franklin College in 1825.   During the years leading up to the Civil War, Franklin College became a tug of war between pro-slavery legislators, who wished to revoke its charter, and abolitionist forces.  The result was that for a time two colleges operated in this small town.


Though never large, Franklin College prided itself on the quality of its graduates.  Titus Basfield, was one of the first blacks to receive a degree in Ohio.  His friend, congressman John A. Bingham, “the father of the 14th amendment,” was also a Franklin graduate.  The school boasted that 80% of its graduates entered the ministry. but counted   two governors, eight U.S. senators, nine U.S. congressmen, and 20 state legislators.  It also graduated three of the first female doctors in Ohio.


The Philosophic Literary Society was founded in 1826, and the Jefferson Literary Society shortly after.  Much of the newspaper coverage of the college involved the yearly contests between the two in debate and oratory.  Each commencement was marked by a number of student speeches.  In 1883 each of the nine graduates gave a speech on an academic topic; in other years each discipline had a speaker.


Franklin had both collegiate and preparatory divisions.  The enrollment in 1873 was listed as 148—27 in the collegiate division.  By 1919 enrollment had dropped to the point that there were no graduates.  Two problem emerged leading to the school’s closure:  first, New Athens now had neither railroad nor trolley serving the town; second, the school’s indebtedness had reached $15,000.

Bricks and Mortar

The original one-story brick building was so small that, according to Williams, sometimes two classes had to be held in the same room.  The building boom that occurred in the later part of the 19th century resulted in a much larger, much improved campus.   A fire in 1899 destroyed all campus buildings.  So a new campus emerged in 1906.


After the college closed in 1919, the campus was ultimately sold to the local New Salem school district for the amount of the school’s debts.    One of the buildings housed the high school from 1927 through 1971.  In 1992 the remaining building—referred to as Number 5-- became the Franklin Museum.  It serves that function today, preserving the history of the college and the causes for which it stood.






 Franklin Museum (Bwsmith84,

<> CC BY 3.0) accessed 2-1-2017


            Colors: Blue and Orange


College Football Data Warehouse shows complete seasons in 1914 and 1915.  The 1914 team scored wins over Flushing High School and the Flushing Collegians set against five losses—one a 105-0 pounding by Linsly Military Academy of Wheeling.  The 1915 club had wins over West Lafayette High School and the K.K. Athletic Club.  However, newspaper articles show a regular schedule in 1893 and 1894 with games against the likes of Wheeling Athletic Club, Steubenville Olympic Association, and the Martin’s Ferry Y.M.C.A.


The first article involving Franklin athletics was a baseball game against Linsly Military Academy in 1892, which the Cadets “naturally won.”  However, proof that Franklin may have won a few baseball games was that Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young pitched for the team when he attended the college in the 1880’s, according to the Canton Repository; he returned to pitch an exhibition game there in 1912.

Denton True "Cy" Young  (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

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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