Harding Magazine

Galloway gates return home

The front lawn arches — one of the first landmarks recalled by alumni who have studied on the Searcy campus.

Yet before Harding moved to its current residence in 1934 and the stone columns and arches earned a place in University lore, a simple and  beautiful set of iron gates welcomed  students to what was then Galloway Woman's College.

Galloway GatesThe gates were erected on the Park Avenue side of campus when the college was built in the late 1880s.

However, in 1927 Galloway constructed a new entrance on Center Street composed of two sets of stone columns framing the front lawn. Stone columns were a very popular trend among colleges during this era, and the iron gates lost their prominence.

When Harding College moved to Searcy in 1934 after Galloway consolidated with Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., the columns remained. SubT-16 men's social club added the "College" arch in 1941, and the administration added the "University" arch when Harding achieved that status in 1979. The gates were forgotten.

For several decades, Galloway alumni and Searcy historians have wondered where the gates went. Were they destroyed? Sold? Given away?

The truth: They never left White County.

Before Harding …
Sept. 11, 1889, marked opening day for Galloway Woman's College. The school, named after Methodist bishop Charles Betts Galloway, dedicated itself to giving young women a quality higher education. That same year Searcy, a town of about 2,000, celebrated its 50th year as county seat and welcomed the new students with open arms.

Although Galloway struggled financially — losing the original Godden Hall in a fire early on — the school flourished, due to loyal faculty and  students and high academic and social standards. In 1906 a young woman could attend the college for $200 per year. It claimed to be the largest school for females in the South, and most of the well-known families in Arkansas sent their daughters there.

Like most American citizens and organizations, Galloway would not make it through the Great Depression unscathed. The campus would close in 1933, only to reopen less than a year later under new ownership and religious affiliation with J.N. Armstrong and company at the helm.

The gatekeeper
During Galloway's prosperous years, a future alumna was born June 13, 1909, on Walker Plantation in Gum Springs, Ark. Willie Mae Walker Collison was the daughter of John S. Walker, caretaker of the 777.77-acre farm, which produced corn, cotton, hay, strawberries, sugar cane, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Her grandfather, Billy Walker Jr., built the house in which she was born and raised.

Willie Mae Walker CollisonA spirited young woman from an early age, Collison embraced education. Because roads between Gum Springs and Searcy were filled with potholes and flooded easily, she had to room in town to attend Searcy High School. She then enrolled at Galloway College, where she lived in Godden Hall and majored in home economics.

She excelled academically and socially at the college. But she could not escape notice from the Galloway Self Government Association, whose strict rules were difficult for even the most conscientious student to follow 100 percent of the time. In two months, Collison was "called down" three times for various transgressions such as "failure to lower the shades," "going by the drugstore on the way to church," and "failing to sign a return."

After graduation in 1931, she attended Arkansas Teacher's College and then University of Arkansas. There she met her husband, William H. Collison Sr., and the two married in 1933. They raised two children, Bill Jr. and Fran Mullin. William ran the family hardware/farm supplies store, J. Collison Co. Inc., which was established in 1896. Willie Mae taught school for many years in Cotton Plant, Ark.

Throughout her life, Collison cultivated a passion for preserving the past. Her acquisition of the gates is case in point. During Dr. George S. Benson's presidency, she noticed the gates in disrepair and asked Benson about them. In response, he gave her the gates, which she repaired and painted … and stored in her garage.

She held on to those and other mementos from her college days and community, further testimony to her love of history. In fact, she was one of 34 founding members of the White County Historical Society, chartered in 1961.

The return home
Searcy resident and Arts Council member Eloise Muncy met Collison through the Historical Society. "I like the spunk that she had," says Muncy. "She was blessed with a sharp mind until her death. She took such pride in her heritage, and she was an excellent storyteller."

In 2003 Muncy interviewed Collison for Cultural Heritage Month. Muncy also gave tours of historical sites in White County, including the Walker Plantation, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. She remembers a slight, but bright, 93-year-old who eagerly showed visitors the bedroom in which she was born. Thanks to current owners Craig and Leah Lackie, the home is in pristine condition, with its original architectural structure intact.

Collison died July 3, 2006. Shortly thereafter, Fran visited Harding armed with boxes of her mother's memorabilia, much of it from her Galloway years during the late '20s and early '30s.

Letters, yearbooks, photos, transcripts, banners, books and more tell the story of young women trying to find a place in the world during an era that started with such promise and ended with a nation in despair. One may read of romance revelations or laundering techniques, congratulatory letters or simple notes to family and friends.

Also among these mementos lay the gates.

Despite the fact that Collison's alma mater joined Hendrix College, she still saw Searcy as Galloway's home and therefore donated her keepsakes to Harding. She was determined to see the gates returned to their rightful place. Honored by Collison's gifts, the University has restored the gates as closely as possible to their original condition. Until this point, the only Galloway structures still standing were Pattie Cobb Hall and Olen Hendrix Building.

Now home, the gates have been erected in the Harding History House garden on the north side of campus, a reminder of the first inhabitants of this campus, the high standard of education they invoked, and one woman's desire to treasure and preserve the past for future generations.

Author's note: Beginning in May 2007, in conjunction with White County Historical Society's Cultural Heritage Month, much of Collison's memorabilia has been on display at Searcy Arts Council's Black House. A special thanks goes to Eloise Muncy, who generously shared her knowledge and memories.

Did you know?

Red Cross posterGalloway grad serves in WWII
Searcy resident Margarete Neel left teaching to serve as a nurse in India during WWII. While there, she was chosen the International Red Cross Poster Girl, and her form graced 1.4 million posters around the globe. In the well-known photo, Neel is seen standing atop a high hill, presenting a world of endless possibilities to the wounded soldier seated in front of her.

Small town makes big impact
In 1950, Forbes magazine recognized Searcy for "remarkable growth."

Look out NCAA!Searcy's only college football bowl game was played Jan. 1, 1936. The Strawberry Bowl pitted the Brinkley Independents against the Searcy All Stars. Despite the All Stars' best efforts, Brinkley won.

Shop 'til you drop
JC Penney has been in town for 79 years — the original store opened in 1929.

Motto lives on
Before Harding adopted the motto "educating for eternity" during the 50th anniversary in 1974, Bishop Galloway, the women's college namesake, made this statement during commencement of its 1889 school year: "Teachers and colleges are educators for eternity."

Not always open 24 hours
Most folks think Walgreen's has been in town for only two years. And while the new store opened in November 2005, the very first Walgreen's Drug Store in Searcy opened in June 1934 on the corner of Arch and Spruce streets.(Facts gathered from Ray Muncy's book Searcy: A Small Town Grows Up With America, 1976.)

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