Pulaski County Fact Book II
A History of Somerset Community College 1607 to Present

In the year 1607, a group of Englishmen made the first permanent settlement in Virginia. In September of 1965, Somerset Community College opened its doors of educational opportunity to the present generation, stemming from those same Englishmen. It may seem strange to being writing the story of a modern two-year college with the founding of the first permanent settlement in Virginia in 1607, yet the social, economic, religious, political, and educational heritage of Pulaski County, as well as all Kentucky is descended from pioneer Virginia and North Carolina in the main.

These people were a different breed from their counterparts left in the European countries. Their desires were political freedom and an opportunity to develop their economic and cultural abilities.

This Virginia "spirit" continued to grow, and soon many other Englishmen had migrated to the American colony of Virginia.

The frontier continued westward into what became known as Kentucky County, which was officially created by the first General Assembly of Virginia, January 1, 1777, with Harrodsburg as the county seat.

Even before Kentucky became a state, education was on the move. In 1780, Virginia granted Kentucky County, 8,000 acres of land for the support of education. The General Assembly of Virginia established Transylvania Academy in the same year. In time this was to become the first university west of the Allegheny Mountains.

By the year 1792, Kentucky County had been divided into 16 counties of its own; and it was in that year that Kentucky was added to the Union of The United States of America as the fifteenth state.

The General Assembly of Kentucky in 1798 authorized the created of seventeen seminaries in as many counties. Thus, education had become a definite objective of the early pioneer citizens of Kentucky; and that original spirit of the founding fathers of America had carried over into Kentucky.

An act creating a new county out of the counties of Lincoln and Green was approved December 10, 1789, the first commissioners of the new county met at the home of Nicholas Jasper for the purpose of choosing a count seat. After much deliberation Somerset was decided on as the seat of government for the neat county.

Geographically, Pulaski County is located in the South Central part of Kentucky. It has an area of 401,920 acres and is the fourth largest in the state. The county’s primary resources are limestone, coal, timber, and water. It is also generously supplied with rivers, lakes and streams. The principal ones are the Cumberland River (New Lake Cumberland) in the south and the Rockcastle in the east.

The beginning of educational development in Somerset was on April 29, 1807, when Robert Modrel and James Hardgrove were appointed agents for the county in surveying the land granted the county by the state for the endowment of a seminary. this land was to be sold, and the proceeds used to establish and maintain the Somerset Academy or Seminary, the first formal school in the county.

It seems the educational growth in the county came along three lines: the academy system, the private schools such as the Masonic School, and the public school system. Soon full scale education was under way in Pulaski County, and school districts were formed which gradually grew into what we have today. Pulaski County Schools have experienced many problems but at the same time have helped develop many notable persons.

The main idea or motive behind education in Pulaski County can best be summarized by the following statement taken from the report of Superintendent Leonard Meece given to the Pulaski County Board of Education in 1923:

We are making a determined fight against illiteracy and accomplishing great success

in this work, not only in the number of illiterates who have been taught to read and write, \

but in stimulating a greater interest in education and increased attendance.

The present educational system of Pulaski County is comparable with the average Kentucky county system with improvement being gained by partial or compete consolidation both at the elementary and secondary level. At present there are four school systems plus one parochial elementary school. There are seven high schools in the county: Somerset, Pulaski County, Burnside, Ferguson, Eubank, Nancy, and Shopville. Eleven consolidated elementary centers are present in operation, and one and two room schools have all but vanished form the education scene in Pulaski County. The total secondary and elementary enrollment in the county is nearly ten thousand.

From a very early date man of the children of the more prominent families went away to continue their education at colleges or boarding schools. As the county continued to grow more and more students decided to continue education beyond the secondary level. the colleges that had developed through the years in the surrounding area absorbed most of the local students in higher education. Some of the more popular of these colleges are universities are the University of Kentucky at Lexington, Eastern Kentucky University at Richmond, and Berea College.

While the educational systems of the county had been growing, other factors of community growth had not been at a standstill. Most important of these was the economic growth of Somerset and Pulaski County. By the 1950s, Somerset had become the center of activity and grade, not only for Pulaski County, but also for the surrounding counties. The citizens began serious through toward building a college at Somerset that would accommodate students from Pulaski, Wayne, Russell, Casey, Lincoln, McCreary, Rockcastle, and other counties. But building a college adequate to accommodate today’s students would require vast resources, and Somerset alone could not undertake such a project.

Activities concerning a Somerset College came alive again in 1959, when Bert T. Combs, a candidate for Governor, spoke in Somerset. At that time Combs promised that if elected Governor, he would build a college at Somerset. he also told the local citizens of a new type of college which Combs proposed would be a "community college," a two year collegiate institution that would operate under the auspices of the University of Kentucky.

At this time, it would be well to look beyond Somerset and focus attention on another area of development, the University of Kentucky.

The United States had continued to grow rapidly since the founding of Virginia in 1607. Education was still an important fact of the nation’s growth. In 1862, the Federal government showed its interest in education when Congress passed the Morrill or Land Grant Act. Every state was granted 30,000 acres of land for each senator and representative it had in Congress. The land was to be sold, the proceeds invested, and the revenue used to create and maintain a college for agriculture and mechanical arts. The University of Kentucky, founded in 1865, is such a land grant college. The original curriculum of agriculture and mechanical arts has been greatly expanded. Today, the University, with an enrollment in excess of 16,000 still has a very large college of agriculture, as well as medicine, commerce, law, education, arts and sciences, and may others, including the community college system. Dr. Ellis F. Hartford, well-known Kentucky educator, was selected as dean of the newly-formed community college system in 1964.

In 1960, a group of local citizens made a call on Governor Bert Combs in Frankfort to discuss the plans the Governor had for carrying out his campaign promises. The delegation found Combs still highly enthusiastic about the idea of building a college at Somerset, as well as, some other towns across the state.

An appointment was arranged with Dr. Frank Dickey, president of the University of Kentucky. Dr. Dickey worked out a plan of procedure for the local citizens to meet in order to obtain the erection of the college in Somerset. The local effort was to furnish land and utilities for the new college. at the same time the University and state would work on plans for the college and secure legislation authorizing the creation of the Somerset College. Through the combined efforts of Kentucky citizens, University of Kentucky officials, and the state administration, a bill passed the Kentucky legislature in 1962, creating five community colleges, including one at Somerset.

To implement the local obligation, an Educational Development Foundation was organized with H.D. "Doc" Strunk serving as chairman and the following members: R.G. Williams, Jr., W.B. Jones, O’Leary Meece, Charles Oatts, James McClure, Glen Neikirk, and Alonzo Carter. Immediately after the Education Development Foundation was formed, efforts were stated to raise the $150,000 necessary for the acquisition of land and utilities for the college.

August 7, 1963, was the day the first pledges were receiving, and by the end of the month $106,856.00 had been pledged including a $13,000 donation by the Pulaski County Fiscal Court. The campaign to obtain the funds for the college involved every person in the area in addition to all civic organizations. This was further evidence of the education interests of the citizens of this area. While the campaign to raise the necessary funds was under way, several locations for the college were studied by the University of Kentucky officials before the present site of 75 acres was selected.

 

THE END

 

Last Update Thursday, 27-Dec-2012 13:39:08 EST

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County Coordinator:  Gayle Triller
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