Iberia Academy and Junior College
1890-1951 (1929-1951 Junior College)
As I walked around the abandoned Iberia Academy campus, looking for camera angles, three locals came by to give advice and tell me what they knew about the school, now closed for more than half a century. An hour later, I became reacquainted with the staff of the Western Manuscript Library at Rolla. They allowed me to look at their Iberia Academy collection. Miller County Museum has Peggy Hake’s history of the school among other online materials.
Iberia Academy was founded by Richard T. Marlow, a Congregational Church minister from Arkansas. At the time of its founding, there was not a high school available for students in an area the size of the state of Connecticut. Dubbed the "Arkansas Experiment," the school opened on October 1, 1890 with classes taught by a husband and wife team from Illinois, Mabel and G. Byron Smith.
The curriculum included biology, chemistry, Latin, Greek, English, history, mathematics, modern languages, music, and physical education. At the Adda Danforth Cabin, female students learned weaving. Peggy Hake’s history notes that athletics and religion were important for the students.
Since not an hour of college credit was offered in the region, Iberia Academy began offering college classes in 1929. The result of this was that many of the schools—even the larger ones—in the region began to be staffed by Iberia graduates with Associate’s degrees. By 1940’s public schools began to cut into the Academy enrollment, causing Iberia to drop the first two years of high school. It now termed itself a four-year junior college. At the same time, church support began to dwindle. The result was a shift in emphasis to an agricultural-based curriculum. Before the junior college closed in 1951, it became a Conservation College, under the auspices of Drury College in Springfield.
In addition to athletic programs, Iberia offered chapters of the YMCA and YWCA, a band, and two literary societies for its students. The 1939 commencement play was Green Stockings. That year seven students graduated from the college and 12 from the academy. Total enrollment was 116.
Bricks and Mortar
Peggy Hake’s history shows that the first students did much of the work in the construction of the campus. As a testimony of their skills, the four-building campus stood intact until quite recently. The original Administration building burned in 1917. The present building dates from 1922-24. Made of native limestone, it measures 90 X 45 feet. The Martin Gymnasium likewise is made of limestone, with the same dimensions. Alumni Hall, originally the girls’ dormitory, is a three-story frame building, constructed in 1904. The President’s House dating from around 1888 was incorporated into the structure.
After the college closed, the buildings served various uses as rental apartments and as a raincoat manufacturing site. The campus was placed on the National Register in 1980. Today it is largely a ruin. Martin Gymnasium is a burned out shell. A visiting paranormal team deemed Alumni Hall unsafe to explore in 2013. While showing signs of wear, Administration Building is still sound.
In 2009 a paranormal team from St. Louis spent time in the buildings and detected numerous “ghost orbs” in the Administration Building. Subsequent visits from Ozark Paranormal of Springfield and ELITE Paranormal of Kansas City found no evidence of ghosts.
Derelict Administration Building in 2013
Team name: Do those uniforms say "Cads"?
Miller County Museum reported that Iberia Academy played in the first football ever in Iberia, losing to Missouri School of Mines. Another early opponent was Springfield Normal School. Hake reported that the 1913 team beat Rolla High School so badly (78-0) that in the return match at Rolla, the School of Mines was substituted as an opponent. She notes that Iberia Academy had both men’s and women’s athletic associations, with strict eligibility rules.
The 1914 Iberia Academy Bulletin contains photos of both a baseball team and a girls basketball team, though there is no mention of games played.
1914 Iberia Academy baseball team (Iberia Academy Bulletin, Courtesy of Western Manuscript Library)