Meeting in Abingdon in October 1835, the Holston Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church appointed the Reverend Creed Fulton as chairman of a committee charged with finding a suitable site for its proposed college. The committee included William Patton, Thomas Catlett, Thomas Stringfield, Jacob Peck, John Cocke, and Joseph Reese.
Reverend Creed Fulton
On his way home from Conference, Fulton stopped at the home of Washington County Virginia resident Tobias Smyth to return a borrowed horse. After the exchange of customary pleasantries, the conversation almost certainly touched upon Fulton‟s mission to find an appropriate location for the school the Methodists hoped to establish. A large farm belonging to the estate of the Reverend Edward Crawford, about a mile from Smyth‟s, was sitting idle.
According to his granddaughter, Tobias Smyth never had his picture taken. This photo is of Smyth's grandson, William Franklin Smyth, who was said to have had an uncanny resemblance to Tobias Smyth.
Smyth surmised that Crawford's heirs might be willing to sell it. Smyth contributed $500 on the condition that the college would be located on this site, providing the incentive for the securing of additional funds needed to establish the college. Fulton – and eventually the Holston Conference – concurred that the site was suitable, and subsequent events soon transformed the small southwestern Virginia farm into a small liberal arts college that eventually attracted faculty, students, and staff from across the United States and the world.
In November 1835 Fulton met with interested citizens of Washington County at the Glade Spring Presbyterian Church, just a few miles from the Crawford farm, to gauge if the people there had any interest in seeing a college established in their neighborhood. The area's citizens saw the benefits that would come to the region should the Methodists establish their college in Washington County and pledged approximately $5,000 towards the project.
On January 1, 1836, Fulton‟s committee agreed with Smyth's choice of location. And with community support and enthusiasm on his side, Fulton set about raising additional funds to purchase the Crawford Farm. The final cost for the property was $4,990.50.
Fulton had the good fortune to have the assistance of Glade Spring resident William Byars, who had amassed quite a fortune over the years and was willing to contribute both his money and his time to the project. Byars demonstrated his leadership by contributing $600 toward the founding of the College.
Emory & Henry College had its genesis just as the United States was entering its worst economic depression until the Great Depression of the early twentieth century. International financial collapse in 1836 produced a worldwide panic in 1837 that damaged economies attached to Great Britain, especially that of the United States. The economic recession lasted well into the 1840s. This was not a good time to establish a college.
Nevertheless, as the economy entered into recession, Emory & Henry‟s founders continued their work. Smyth and Alexander Findlay, both of whom would later serve on the Board of Trustees, contributed money to the endeavor, but more importantly they, along with Byars, donated their time and labor to help build the College. Findlay drew the plans for the main academic building (the forerunner of today‟s Wiley Hall); Byars sketched the design for the two-story boarding house on the site of the current Byars Hall. When contributions ran short but bills needed to be paid, Findlay and Byars paid the expenses out of their own pockets and waited until Fulton had collected enough cash to reimburse them.