SCOTT COUNTY, Ky. (FOX 56) — At a glance, the stone building that sits off a road near Great Crossings High School doesn’t look all that special. You can tell it’s old, and it’s in a scenic spot by a babbling brook, but if the crumbling walls could talk, you’d learn that it had a unique place in history.
“There’s such a grand story of empowerment in this place,” said Dr. William “Chip” Richardson, an ophthalmologist who owns the farm on which the building sits.
The building was the dormitory for Choctaw Academy, a boarding school for Native Americans that operated from 1825 to 1843.
Saving it is Richardson’s passion. He bought the property solely because he didn’t want to see the remnants of the school crumble away to nothing.
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“This is a very important part of Native American history and it’s been widely forgotten,” he said.
The school was located on land that was owned by Richard Mentor Johnson, a prominent politician who later became the ninth vice president of the United States. It was, no doubt, a political deal that came with a government contract. Johnson offered his land because there was money to be had for operating the school.
But unlike many Indian boarding schools, this one largely avoided scandal and did provide quality education. Richardson said over the years, more than 600 boys from 17 tribes were educated at Choctaw Academy. Some of them went on to attend Transylvania University and become doctors, lawyers, and teachers.
African Americans and local whites also attended the school, so it was a rare place of diversity in the Antebellum era.
“One thing very unique about the Choctaw nation at the time was their chiefs really believed education was the secret to their survival,” Richardson said. That’s why he said they were willing to send their sons here, so far from their designated territory in Oklahoma.
Shortly after Richardson bought the property in 2012, the roof of the stone building collapsed because of the rotting timbers that held it up. The Choctaw nation sent some money to build a metal structure to help protect the building from water damage. Some Scott County school children also raised money for the cause.
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Richardson believes the building would be gone now, if not for that structure. But it’s just a Band-Aid, not a long-term solution. However, things are looking up.
Recently, the Blue Grass Community Foundation set up a way to take in charitable contributions to save the school. Richardson figures it will take $300,000 to restore the roof and shore up the walls to their 1825 condition.
“It’s still worthy of a restoration, which is what keeps me going,” he said.
He envisions a day when school groups and history lovers can come to get a feel for what it was like to be a student at the school nearly 200 years ago.
“And I truly believe if I’m going to save this place, the days are really numbered. Eventually, there won’t be anything left to save.”
More information is available by following the Save the Choctaw Academy Facebook page.