Gardens to Gables

Echo Hall, Augusta, Kentucky

My oldest sister insists I possess hoarder tendencies. I disagree, of course – I recycle my newspapers, you can see the floors in our house, and I regularly donate bags of stuff to Goodwill. But when it comes to photographs, the charge might ring true – I take lots and lots of pictures and squirrel them away for when inspiration may strike. Last week, I saw a news story and my memory was jolted – for I recalled taking a photograph of the building in question. As residents of Augusta, Kentucky, work to save historic Echo Hall, I can bring image and story together.

Echo Hall in Augusta, Kentucky.

Historic vernacular buildings in Kentucky tend to have predictable shapes – which is why Echo Hall immediately caught my eye. The dimensions of the brick building are anything but ordinary – a three bay wide, two story, front gable oriented central block flanked by one-story, four bay wings to either side – resulting in a very long footprint.

Rear elevation of Echo Hall, circa 1980. This only shows a portion of the rear elevation – the rear of the two-story central pavilion is at right, while one of the wings is at right in the photo. Image from the National Register of Historic Places files.

The building dates to the mid-1820s, and was constructed as a dormitory for Augusta College, the first established Methodist College in the country.*

Compared to some of the exuberant Gothic Revival and Queen Anne dwellings in the immediate neighborhood, Echo Hall may appear plain. The brick walls have been painted white, and there is little stylistic expression on the facade – but the Federal style in Kentucky was often quite restrained, and this was intended to be a utilitarian building.

Echo Hall’s significance lies not in its ornamentation, but its association with early efforts to provide higher education in the Commonwealth.

West Hall, circa 1980. Image from the National Register of Historic Places files.

Another dormitory (above), facing Echo Hall across the college square, was known as West Hall. It is a more standard, two-story, five bay wide brick building – it blended in more with the surrounding neighborhood from its construction than did Echo Hall.

Augusta College operated for more than 20 years in this rive town. A newspaper run by the school, the Augusta Herald, and the profits from the ferry on the Ohio River provided funding for the college, but finances were never stable.

Historic markers are the best!

The school managed to stay afloat until 1849, but by that time, the Kentucky Conference of Methodists were no longer involved, having chosen to support Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky.

Echo Hall.

Following the closure of the college, both dormitories were adapted into single family homes. The recent years have not been kind to Echo Hall – the 1997 Ohio River Flood damaged the building, and it was recently slated for demolition.

That is how I learned about the building, and was able to associate a name to the photographs. Local residents, the Augusta College Echo Hall Association, are rallying behind this symbol of early higher education in Kentucky, and have organized to raise funds for its stabilization.

Augusta Graded and High School, built in 1900 and 1923.

The main academic building of the college burned in 1856. The old Augusta Graded and High School, a wonderful mixture of Romanesque and emerging Classical Revival elements, was built on the site of the former college.

Echo Hall, with its distinctive physical characteristics, is a visible, tangible reminder of the college’s efforts to “light the torch of learning.”** Beyond the historic marker, and West Hall, about which I know woefully little, nothing remains of Augusta College. I think it would be a wonderful museum and community space for Augusta – perhaps even, as one of the organizers stated on the GoFundMe site, additional classes for the Augusta Independent School system.  Learning in and learning from a historic building – that sounds perfect.

 

*Two other establishments lasted less than 10 years, which is why this designation is given to Augusta College.

**Augusta College, Augusta, Kentucky : first established Methodist college, 1822-1849, by Walter Herbert Rankins. Published 1957.

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