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The Willow Springs Tuesday Study Club met at the Willow Springs Senior Center on Nov. 7 with Mary Knott as hostess. After a brief business meeting, Mary gave the following presentation:

The Arcadia Valley Academy has been towering over the Arcadia Valley in the St. Francois Mountains for over 150 years. The original Academy was built in 1846 as a Methodist High School by Jerome C. Berryman.

During the Civil War it served as a Union hospital from 1861 to 1863. In 1877, the Ursuline nuns purchased the school and turned it into a girls’ school. The Academy operated as a school until 1971 which marked the last graduating class. The Academy served as a convent until the nuns were moved to St. Louis in 1985.

Now under private ownership, the Academy has become a living antique, currently on the historic register as a historic district. The architecture is some of the most beautiful in Missouri. The chapel has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows in the world. The gymnasium built in 1930 has a unique roof truss system designed in Germany and was the last of the original buildings to be constructed for the Ursuline Girls Academy. The entire complex has over two hundred rooms. It was built in two tiers and designed to have an operating ground floor and a balcony observation deck. The auditorium was erected in 1917 and seats 75 people and was used for recitals, plays, and other productions.

When the Rev. Jerome Berryman came to the Arcadia Valley, his brother was already there. They decided to start a school of higher learning. The valley was almost pure wilderness. In 1847 when they started the school there was no Iron County or Arcadia Valley. It was called Arcadia High School. Rev. Berryman was known all over as a Methodist circuit riding preacher. Families moved here so their children could attend Berryman’s school.

By 1859 Berryman had moved on and Asbury Farnham was principal. There were 109 boys and 66 girls enrolled.

At the beginning of the Civil War the college was closed and the buildings were used as hospitals, as the Union forces occupied the area. In 1863 General Clinton Fisk insisted the school be opened and the property reverted to Rev. Berryman. When he retired to Caledonia, Mo., several tried to run the school, but were unsuccessful.

The young men and women attending the school received a quality education. Most were local, but a glance at the roster of students shows home towns of Pocahontas, Ark., and many others. Tuition was $10 to $16; board, washing, lodging and food, $80.

In 1877, the college was sold to the Ursuline Order for $30,000. Father Hennessy of Iron Mountain pleaded with the church and they persuaded Mother Johanna to purchase the buildings and grounds.

There were two buildings in 1877 — one, the original 16-room building of which three rooms were habitable; the other, an unfinished four-story brick erected in 1870, of which three rooms were usable.

However, the Sisters went right to work, and in 1878, graduated their first class of 17 boarders and some local girls. They put on an ambitious program for more than 259 guests.

The school prospered. A 1902 photo shows 50 girls gathered around an artificial lake on the grounds. The beautiful St. Joseph’s Chapel was built in 1907. A new four-story wing was added in 1913, but the 1870 building burned in 1917, so immediately a three-story wing was built. In 1922 another wing was added connecting to the chaplain’s residence. The last building was the wonderful gymnasium in 1930. During peak years, more than 100 girls were boarded and educated there. They came from far and wide, including foreign countries.

The Sisters were asked to take charge of parochial schools of surrounding towns including Graniteville, Pilot Knob and Arcadia. Just getting there was no easy task. Even when the Sisters came there in 1877, there were few houses in Arcadia. The Sisters gradually increased their holdings, until by 1913 there was sufficient acreage for a Missouri Pacific Demonstration farm.

Rules for the girls were very strict. They were asked to be silent except during recreation. The school was approved by the North Central Association, so the education offered was first-rate. The music department was always available. The auditorium was available for concerts, plays, etc. The school had a fine library. The beautiful natural setting was enhanced by landscaping. The big spring has a lovely rock springhouse.

Many local girls attended the school until it closed in 197l. The enrollment dropped, and it was no longer possible to operate the school. However, the Sisters operated a day care center and many children had the privilege of learning from the Sisters. During the past several years, one of the Sisters taught in the public schools.

Through the years, retreats and guests were made welcome on the campus during the summer months. 1977 was a centennial year, and although the school had closed in 1971, there was a huge celebration. Alumnae and friends came from far and wide. Many of the furnishings and keepsakes were sold and some property sold for the Senior Citizen Complex.

The Academy’s Campus was endowed with many striking venues for entertainment. The college was considered a top-notch education that covered all aspects of learning development which included drama, music, religion, dance and art. The Ursuline Sisters had each room designed to enhance the education process and each venue still retains its impeccable beauty, acoustics and design to add to each artistic endeavor. Today these incredible rooms are used to bring first rate entertainment options to the community.

Built in 1889, the historic Laundry House and 1906 Priest House have played host to many dignitaries that visited the scenic Arcadia Academy.

The Priest House exhibits impressive architecture from its era, showcasing expansive rooms with ceilings towering toward 10 feet, intricate wood moldings, numerous large arched windows and an extensive two-story, 60-foot balcony that offers views of the campus grotto and pond. The remarkable structure of the house provided the foundation for incorporating distinctive and inviting elements into the renovations, which are exclusive to the Academy Bed and Breakfast. The accommodations comprise five distinctly themed rooms: The Cardinal Suite, The Provincial Suite, The Garden Room, The Hearth Room and The Bishop’s Room.

The Laundry House once served as the laundry facility for the school. Originally constructed in 1889, the three-story building boasts a charming outdoor patio at the rear, once dedicated as a greenhouse. Now, it hosts four modernly restored rooms, including a honeymoon suite with a heart-shaped tub and attached living room, two queen bedrooms with private bathrooms and a giant shared common room, and finally a penthouse suite upstairs with two bedrooms.

The property as a school has been in the Arcadia Valley longer than any town, most of the churches, and most of the homes. Today it is privately owned and is a bed and breakfast.