In the late 1880s tentative plans were being made in this general region for an institution of higher schooling and several Lawson citizens, desirous of having it locate in their new town, made up a sizable subscription and offered it as an inducement.
When Woodson Institute was located in Richmond, instead, the local citizens, including W. W. Smith, John Crowley, James Morrow, Samuel Wharton, Robert Finch, Charles Bethel, J. A. Smith, decided to start a school of their own. Lawson Presbyterian College was founded in October 1890.
Having made their plans, and secured a site above Sixth Street (about where the high school baseball field is now) they began to study plans and finally settled on those recently used in the construction of the new building at Camden Point’s school for girls. Miss Lutie Palmer was teaching in that school at the time but whether she had anything to do with the choice is not known. Lena Titus Smith, a graduate of Camden Point, brought the plans home with her so work could start on the local academy.
The building was, for its time, quite impressive. It had a tower reaching above the second story of the big square brick structure and was equipped for steam heat, although it did not work too well.
Classes opened there at the beginning of the 1891 school term, with Dr. Edmund Eusebius Riopel as principal. Later, Rev. Evander McNair, pastor of the local Presbyterian church was principal for a time and his daughter, Jenny, taught English and sciences. Carleton Marsh was heading the school in 1897 and Dr. Riopel returned in 1898
This school educated both boys and girls. It furnished instruction in English, Mathematics, Sciences (including laboratory work), Latin, Greek, Voice, Piano, Mandolin, and Guitar. Tuition (1898): Academy—$33.00, Music—$40, Board, tuition, etc.—$160.00
Young ladies could board in the College, although a few boys under 12 were accepted as boarders, especially if they came with their sisters. Young men could find boarding places in town at very reasonable rates. Students could be received as early as 8 years old. Special rates were given when there were two or more students from the same family.
On October 4, 1898 the academy building burned under what was termed as “very peculiar circumstances”. Things were said to be not going well at all in the school. One story indicated that Riopel was alone and asleep when the fire broke out and barely escaped with his life. He left shortly afterward and the term was finished out under Charles Romig and a Mr. Barrett, holding the classes in rooms above the Lawson Bank. Since insurance could not be collected on the academy building, classes were discontinued in 1900.
For many years after that, the old academy ruins were a popular spot on Sunday afternoons, many pictures taken there, and the memories are still treasured. Later the lot served as a community ball park equipped with floodlights. The site was eventually purchased by the school district and is now included as part of the high school complex.