Historical marker #2054 in Knox County notes the founding and history of Union College.
Incorporated in October 1879, this small, private college in Knox County is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The college was formed by a group of local citizens who sought to improve local education. The group invested twenty thousand dollars into the formation of Union College.
The first president of the college was Abraham H. Harriet and James D. Black became the first secretary. In addition, Black chose the name for the school. He wanted the name to show the “union” of their holistic curriculum.
Located in Barbourville, the first venue for the school was over James T. Gibson’s store, on the east corner of North Main and High streets. In 1880, the college received its first land grant from Thomas J. Wyatt for three acres. Due to financial problems, this land was sold off in 1886. Later, Dr. Daniel Stevenson, acting for the Kentucky Conference of Methodist Episcopal Church, bought Union College and the school began to proposer. On June 8, 1893, Union College conferred their first A.B. degrees to James Perry Faulkner and John Elbert Thomas. Then, in 1906, lighting struck the administration building which burned down. This incident highlighted the college’s financial troubles and the school was almost shut down. Through fundraising efforts of Barbourville citizens, however, construction on new buildings began a year later and the school survived.
In 1927, Union College was accredited by the University of Kentucky. A year later, the institution was admitted into the Association of Colleges and Universities of Kentucky. Finally, in 1932, the college received full accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Three of Union College’s buildings have been named to the National Register of Historic Places. These buildings include Centennial Hall, also known as the old classroom building, Speed Hall, and Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Gymnasium.