LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — I want to start off this column by congratulating the historical society’s long-time, dedicated worker, Shirley McCowan, on being chosen one of this year’s Laurel County Homecoming honorees. Shirley is and has been active on a number of fronts around the county for a long time, and nowhere has she given more of herself and her talents than to the Laurel County Historical Society. Working with her at the society since the 1970s, I have been able to observe her exemplary service first hand. I am happy to see her honored for it.
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Laurel Seminary opened its doors in the fall of 1858. It was soon acclaimed for its high academic standards and for the opportunities for a better education that it offered to the youth of Laurel and surrounding counties. It seemed set to become the jewel in London’s crown.
Then, in the Fall of 1861, the coming of the Civil War to Laurel County shattered that hope. C.B. Faris wrote: “. . .further progress of the school was at an end until peace and quiet should be restored.” Dr. W.S. Doak, who had been employed to run the school, returned to his practice of medicine; his assistant, J. B. Banton, became a captain in the Federal Army and lost his life at the Battle of Stone River. His body was brought back to London and buried at the Randall Cemetery.
Faris goes on say: “During the war both armies, the Federal and Confederates, at different times camped upon and occupied the Seminary grounds, and before the trustees were aware of it, broke into and occupied the building as a hospital and commissary.”
The trustees hastily moved what they could find of the school’s library and other valuable equipment to a private house. Much of what had been purchased for the school’s opening in 1858 was gone without a trace and most of what was left was badly damaged. The new fencing around the school’s property was burned, seats and desks destroyed, windows broken and the rooms defaced. Faris calls it “a general wreck.”