History of Science Hill

The history of Science Hill nearly coincides with the history of its residence, the City of Shelbyville. Wakefield-Scearce Galleries was founded 150 years later.

Kentucky was incorporated as the 15th state in 1792. That November, the Justices of the Quarter Sessions sent a team of men to survey a new town, named Shelbyville in honor of the new state’s first governor.

The following January, fifty-one acres were partitioned by streets to service the newly surveyed lots. The plots began at 7th Street and continued east along Washington Street. Each was numbered, beginning with the number One.

During these early years, Shelbyville lay on one of the main routes through the Kentucky wilderness. The trail probably entered Shelbyville by the lowest ford of Clear Creek at the foot of Washington Street. Hundreds of thousands of eager pioneers ventured through the Cumberland Gap into Eastern Kentucky. Carrying as little as possible, they traveled west by horseback or covered wagon first to the forts of Central Kentucky and then to the Falls of the Ohio, now Louisville. Shelbyville lay between these two locations and offered temporary shelter from harassing Indian attacks that plagued the settlers.

Being surrounded by the water supply of Clear Creek, Shelbyville’s location made it an ideal resting place for weary travelers. The relative safety of Shelbyville and its water supply encouraged the development of numerous small forts nearby. Perhaps the most famous of these is Painted Stone, founded by Squire Boone, brother of the more renowned Daniel, just north of town.

Lot Number Five was purchased in 1795 by William Butler. it is assumed the original eight-room brick structure was built by Butler, as he sold the lot 2 1/2 years later for five times its purchase price. The lot was bought and sold several more times until it was purchased by Lloyd Tevis, whose relative Julia founded Science Hill School in the year 1825.

Records indicate that Julia Ann Hieronymus, a brilliant young educator, married John Tevis, a young Methodist minister, in their home state of Virginia. After their marriage, John was called to pastor at Louisville’s Methodist Church at the Falls of the Ohio. While traversing the trail from Virginia to Louisville, the young couple discovered Shelbyville as so many before them had.

Courtyard in Science Hill
The Courtyard

In Shelbyville, Julia vowed to continue her teaching career by tutoring young girls who made their homes in the Kentucky wilderness. But she planned to teach her charges more than the traditional “gentlelady’s education” of reading, writing, and the social graces; she also endeavored to teach her students the sciences, something unheard of in those times. Legend portrays Julia on a hill to the rear of her cousin Lloyd’s property bestowing a name to her new home: Science Hill School.

On March 25, 1825, Julia opened her school with great anxiety about the size of her first class. To her surprise, twenty girls enrolled on the first day. With the school’s immediate success, John requested to be transferred from his larger Louisville pastorate to the smaller Methodist chapel in Shelbyville, only a little way from Julia’s school. John began to assist his wife in the management of her growing school and eventually facilitated an extensive expansion between 1826 and 1846. Today, Science Hill remains little changed.

In 1879, Dr. Wiley Taul Poynter undertook the operation of Science Hill School. The new administrator improved the leadership curriculum until Science Hill became one of the preeminent girls’ preparatory institutions in America.

The building was once again expanded and was even included in the famous Lyceum Lecture Circuit from 1888 until around 1938. This prestigious accolade brought hundreds of the most famous and distinguished speakers, writers, and educators of the time to the school’s Chapel. With five other private schools and the Lyceum Circuit, Shelbyville became quite a cultural center, even featuring an opera house at 7th and Main Streets.

Aerial View of the Property
Aerial View of the Property

Unfortunately, the hardships of the Great Depression doomed many schools across the United States to failure. After 114 years of continuous operation, Science Hill graduated it’s last class in 1939. During its time, Science Hill School had established a reputation of greatness for its contribution to education and culture. the lives of those girls who graduated from the prestigious school have affected the development of every state of America.

After the school’s 1939 closing, most of the premises became a residential inn. Misses Juliet and Harriet Poynter, daughters of Dr. Wiley Poynter, retained only the most western portion, the original structure as a home. The Poynter daughters were born here in the late 1800s, and here they would die nearly 100 years later.

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Shelbyville, Kentucky, USA
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