Preservation Magazine, Summer 2017

Kentucky Ophthalmologist Fundraises to Save Choctaw Academy

Choctaw Academy in Kentucky

photo by: Tom Eblen/Lexington Herald-Leader

In each Transitions section of Preservation magazine, we highlight places of local and national importance that have recently been restored, are currently threatened, have been saved from demolition or neglect, or have been lost. Here's one from Summer 2017.

This three-story, dry-laid stone building was constructed in 1825 in Scott County, Kentucky at the behest of United States Senator Richard Mentor Johnson to educate Native American youth. What started as a school of 25 Choctaw boys eventually grew to accommodate 188 students from 10 tribes, including the Creek, Pottawatomie, Cherokee, and Osage peoples. The education provided at the academy was considered so good that area white families asked for permission for their sons to attend, making it one of the nation’s first interracial schools.

As Native American tribes were gradually pushed west, Choctaw Academy’s funding and enrollment declined, and it closed in 1845. In 2012, the only remaining building, which historians believe was a dormitory, was purchased by local ophthalmologist William “Chip” Richardson. In the winter of 2015, the roof and a section of the back wall collapsed, necessitating construction of a temporary roof, supported by eight 25-foot poles, to prevent further damage and deterioration. A $9,600 grant from the Choctaw Nation’s Chahta Foundation, as well as several additional donations, provided funding for the roof construction.

Richardson is currently raising money for a rehabilitation, estimated to cost between $300,000 and $400,000.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

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