School for the Deaf

Historical Marker #197 in Danville commemorates the founding of the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD), "the first state-supported school in the United States for the instruction of deaf children."

In the early nineteenth century, General Elias Barbee, a state senator, recognized the need to educate Kentucky's deaf children. Barbee knew this firsthand; his daughter, Lucy, was hearing impaired. Therefore, in December 1822, Barbee and other legislators passed an act to establish the "Asylum for the Tuition of the Deaf and Dumb." The bill was signed into law by Governor John Adair. The name of the school was later changed to the Kentucky School for the Deaf.

The act proclaimed that "it is desirable to promote the education of the community, who, by the mysterious dispensation of Providence, are born deaf." It established the school in Danville and placed the institution under the control of the trustees of nearby Centre College, located a half-mile away. These men, many of whom were Presbyterian ministers, "are hereby authorised [sic] and empowered to receive by legacies, conveyances or otherwise, lands, slaves, money and other property, and the same to retain use and apply to the education of the deaf." The act also called for a committee of twelve "ladies" to help oversee the school. No pupils would be turned away, the act proclaimed, for "Indigent children resident any where within the state, shall be received into the asylum, [and] maintained and educated gratuitously." The Centre College trustees controlled the school, which was funded thanks to a Florida land grant, until 1870, when a separate board of trustees was established.

When classes began in November 1823, the students met in a former tavern known as "the Yellow House." Located on the southwest corner of Main and Fourth streets in downtown Danville, historian Calvin Fackler called the building "a large, two-story frame with a bell atop."

Seventeen pupils were present at the first session. While most of the students were in their late teens, the oldest was thirty and the youngest twelve years old. Lucy Barbee, the daughter of Senator Barbee, was among the first students. The Reverend John Kerr, a Presbyterian minister, was the school's first superintendent, and his wife acted as "matron" of the school. They served from 1823 to 1833. Sadly, their careers were cut short when they both died in a cholera epidemic.

In 1827, the school moved to its present location, a mile to the southeast. On April 15, 1876, the "Yellow House" burned down. This historical marker was erected in the 1960s to indicate the original site of the building. As "The Kentucky Standard," the school's in-house newspaper, noted, "The Kentucky School for the Deaf is one of Danville's famous firsts and deserves such an honor."

The marker reads:

On this corner, in 1823, Kentucky
founded the first state-supported
school in the United States for
the instruction of deaf children.
Classes met in an old inn that
was known as the Yellow House.
Reverend and Mrs. John R. Kerr
served as first Superintendent
and Matron from 1823 until 1833.
School was moved to present campus
on South Second Street in 1827.

This marker was erected in 1973.