Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

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August 16, 2009

Lon Morris College, a storied academic history

By Cherokee County Historical Commission Members Dr. Deborah Burkett and Bindi Cavness

Hundreds of schools were established in East Texas before the Civil War; Lon Morris College alone still exists as the oldest two year college in the entire state.

This month marks its 100th anniversary as a junior college in its current location. However, as a chartered institution, the college can be traced back to 1854 with the establishment of the New Danville Masonic Female Academy in the Kilgore area.

In 1873, the school was named Alexander Institute after founder Dr. Isaac Alexander, an East Texas area preacher and educator. Isaac Alexander promoted his institute as the elite boarding school of East Texas. The first official statement of the school’s mission read as follows, “Our purpose is to both educate the head and the heart, to give correct views of philosophy of life, with the elements of success and the principles of honor.” One Alexander Institute student of 1874 who lived up to these standards was a future governor of Texas, Thomas M. Campbell.

Alexander Institute existed as a private school until 1875 when Dr. Alexander donated it to the East Texas Conference of the Methodist Church with Jacksonville selected as the site. The first location was a two story building on South Bonner and Sunset Avenue. Later after moving to its present location the institution achieved junior college status.

To fully understand and appreciate the historical scope of Lon Morris, its leaders, educators and benefactors, one must visit the Vivian and Bob Smith Gymnasium on campus and view the Lon Morris History Mural. Painted by Lee Jamison, a 1977 graduate of Lon Morris, the images takes you from the New Danville Masonic Female Academy to the year 2000.

As an accomplished professional artist and someone who fondly remembers his school days at Lon Morris, Lee Jamison was the perfect person to paint the college mural. Prior to the Lon Morris mural, Lee completed several others; first was the ballroom at the Driskill Hotel in Austin and second, the hallway of the luxury box section that was added during an expansion of the University of Texas football stadium.

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