The Cradle of Methodism
postcard of boydton academy

Boydton Academic and Bible Institute was opened in 1879 in a building that had been abandoned by Randolph-Macon College when it moved to Ashland in 1868. Dr. Charles Cullis, a humanitarian from Boston, purchased the property in 1878 and opened the school with the partial purpose of training African-American preachers and teachers. The school consisted 425 acres of land and the four-story brick former Randolph Macon Main Hall and Chapel; later a two-story house was added to serve as the headmaster’s home.

Dr. Charles Cullis of Boston purchased the Randolph-Macon College site in 1878 for $6200 using a donation of $10,000 from Mrs. Frederick Owen of Morristown, New Jersey.  He spent an additional $4000 repairing earlier damage sustained by its use shortly after the Civil War first as a barracks by the Union Army and then as a school and offices by the Freedmen’s Bureau, and the subsequent abandonment of the property in 1868 by R-MC.  

Helen Sharp
Mrs. Helen Sharpe

The Boydton Academic and Bible Institute, commonly referred to as the Boydton Institute, was opened in September 1879 by an organization founded by Dr. Cullis, Faith Missions at Home and Abroad.  The school opened with 15 students under the leadership of Rev. C. W. Sharpe and his wife, Mrs. Helen Bradford Sharpe, and enrollment increased to 30 during the first year.  Rev. Sharpe died shortly after, but Mrs. Sharpe would devote the rest of her life to the school, serving in a number of capacities including matron, teacher, and associate principal. There was a combination of day and boarding students, and an orphanage was also attached to the school for several years. The headmaster’s house is known as Helensha Cottage in honor of Mrs. Sharpe.

Tuition in 1888 was $0.50 per month for day students; tuition was free for boarding students who paid $4.50 per month. By 1931, tuition was $1.50 per month and monthly boarding fees were an additional $3.25.

Many Boydton Institute students went on to become teachers and ministers, and several became doctors, lawyers, and businessmen.   Civil Rights leader Vernon Johns attended the school, as did noted Appomattox County educator Mozella Jordan Price.  The Boydton Institute is credited with hosting the first Kenyan Maasai student in the United States, Molonket ole Sempele, from 1909-1912, who sold precious family cattle to attend.

For most of its history, the Institute was primarily an elementary school, with secondary school coursework to the second year of high school. The first four year high school class graduated in 1927, but by 1930, the school taught only elementary grades.  In 1902, the secondary curriculum included courses in English Literature, Rhetoric, Civil Government, Theory and Practice of Teaching, Bible History and Interpretation, Theology, and Evangelistic and Pastoral Work. The school also provided training in cooking, housekeeping, sewing and dressmaking, and farming and animal care. A printing press and sawmill operated on the property for many years, training students in these jobs as well. 

The Christian & Missionary Alliance took over the school and operated it under a similar curriculum from 1910-1930, with the additional goal of training missionaries. The school was later transferred to the Boydton Institute Alumni Association and then to the National Bible Training School.  By the mid-1930s, the school closed for good. A cannery was operated in part of the building during the Depression, and the building was later abandoned and sold at auction in 1949. The roof of the brick Main Hall was severely damaged by Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and was never repaired resulting in the current ruinous state.

In 2009, the OBCF secured 12 acres of the former campus to preserve the heritage of the site. The site is a part of the Civil Rights in education Heritage Trail.

Read Chapter 3 in the life of this Historic Site here