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Lees College

Jackson, Kentucky

1883-1995 (college 1927-95)


HathiTrust has two early school catalogs from  S.P. Lees Collegiate Institute, the forerunner of Lees College.  E-Yearbooks has the 1958 and 1965 copies of Leesonian, the school yearbook.  The Lexington Herald covered many school events.











In 1906, after the closure of Central University, the Kentucky synod of the Presbyterian Church assumed control of S. P. Lees.  The school was described as religious but not sectarian.  


In 1927 Lees finally achieved junior college status and took the name Lees Junior College.  At the onset of the Great Depression, enrollment fell to 33.  But under the leadership of Dr. Samuel O. Van Meter, Lees reached an enrollment of 300, a figure it maintained for much of the remainder of it history.  In 1984 the term Junior was dropped from the name of the school, though it remained a two-year school.


As a private school in an economically depressed region with an increasing number of public colleges, Lees began to experience financial problems in the 1990's.  Forced to seek a partner to stay open, Lees entered a merger agreement with the University of Kentucky.  However it was assigned to partner with the new Hazard Community College.  Now the school is officially the Lees College campus of Hazard Technical and Community College.



In 1883 Reverend John J. Dickey founded an elementary/high school called Jackson Academy in Breathitt County.  This served the educational needs of an area previously without schools.    In 1891 Jackson Academy was purchased by Central University at Richmond, and was given the name Jackson Collegiate Institute.  In 1897 Susan P. Lees provided funding for the school, and so its name was changed to S. P. Lees Collegiate Institute.  The 1905-06 catalog shows an enrollment of 450 elementary and high school students in eight departments: collegiate, normal, intermediate, primary, McCormick Chapel free school, music, manual training, and domestic science.






The 1965 Leesonian shows a student body of around 215.  Student activities that school year included chorus, yearbook, student council, pep club, vespers, and Appalachian Volunteers.  Students enjoyed a Thanksgiving Party, as well as a Christmas Party and a sock hop.

1900 faculty of S.P. Lees Collegiate Institute (Ninth Annual Catalogue of the S.P. Lees Collegiate Institute  <;view=1up;seq=7;size=125) Accessed 1-26-2018.

Bricks and Mortar

Classes began in the court house basement at Jackson.  The original building--a three-story brick structure contained ten classrooms, the chapel with seating for 400, the library and even the shop--was completed around 1886.  After the infusion of Susan P. Lees' money for additions and improvements, this building came to be known as "Old Lees."  At the same time, Mrs. Cyrus McCormick provided funds for McCormick Chapel, a free community school and Sunday school building across the river. The 1900 catalog also shows a dormitory called Little Hall, built around 1890.


Except for Little Hall, which burned in 1926, most early structures remain.  "Old Lees" is now called J. Phil Smith Administration Building and serves as campus administration building.  McCormick Chapel was sold in 1930 but still stands.


            Team name: Early on teams adopted the Bearcats name from the high school.  In

                        the 1960's they became Generals.

            Colors: Red and White


College football Data Warehouse lists one football game played in 1927 when Lees instituted the sport.  That game resulted in a 132-0 loss to St. Xavier College.  However, around 1930 President Van Meter converted an empty lot beside Old Lees into a football stadium called Barkley Bowl, named for Senator Alvin Barkley.  Wikipedia asserts that Lees had a state junior college championship before the sport was dropped around 1940.  I can find no game results.


At the time Lees became a junior college it organized a basketball team, using the Jackson High School facilities.  The 1948 team was runner-up in the state junior college tournament.  In 1966 Van Meter Gymnasium gave the basketball team a real home.  The 1965 team went 4-19.  

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