Historic Presbyterian Schools and White Rock Hospital

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Madison County benefited from programs run by the Women’s Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PCUSA. The church’s mission was to improve communities especially in the rural South in the areas of education and the support of better health services. Between 1893 and 1994, sixteen schools were maintained by the mission boards of the Presbyterian Church.

Women’s Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church USA

Presbyterian Schools are Established

Before the arrival of the Presbyterians, there were only a few 3-month schools scattered around the mountains. The first one established (in 1887) and the most enduring is the Dorland Institute (later Dorland-Bell). A detailed history of this institution is in the Hot Springs History section of the site. The school which merged with it was established ten years later in the community of Walnut and originally called the Walnut Old Jewel Hill Academy. Like the Dorland Institute, it covered grades one through eight, but it was only a two room school at first. More land and buildings were added including the Winona Boydstun Industrial Home for Girls to provide a residence for the girls (boys boarded in town). When the church decided to merge the newly-named Bell Institute with the Dorland Institute in Hot Springs in 1918, the girls residence was converted into a hotel called “Hotel Switzerland. In 1920, Madison County bought that building and established a high school in Walnut.

Madison County’s First Hospital

Medical care arrived in 1919 through the efforts of a Presbytery missionary Frances Goodrich. Her appeal for a hospital was realized in 1919 after a boost with the donation of land in 1916. It was built in the White Rock area of the Laurel Country because of her arguments that most people in that area could not get to the hospital in Asheville, especially the men injured in lumber camps and the women giving birth. The twenty-bed facility had complete operating facilities, clinical facilities, a children’s ward. The first physician and superintendent of the hospital was Dr. George Packard. Under his guidance and his successors, Dr. Eva Locke and Dr. Sarah Bowen, the hospital offered dental clinics and physical examinations for school children as well as inoculations until the Presbyterian Church USA terminated its sponsorship in 1932 because of lack of funds. In addition to treating almost 3000 patients in 1928 and double that in 1929, Dr. Locke organized a preventive and corrective public health program for the entire county.

White Rock Hospital today

Presbyterian Church of the USA believed it was their moral duty to improve communities and prepare their children for responsibility. And the southern mountaineers were an “exceptional population” in need of “exceptional treatment.”