Founded in a Danville tavern by some of Kentucky's most prominent figures of the time, Centre College has produced an eclectic collection of achievements over 190 years — all highlighted in a new book.
The college played an integral part in Kentucky's participation in the Civil War. Its football team famously upset then-powerhouse Harvard University in 1921 — widely considered one of the greatest sports upsets of the first half of the 20th century. And, unbeknownst to most people, it's likely to have been the venue for the first performance of My Old Kentucky Home.
For the first time, all of these events — as well as Centre's evolution from a two-man graduating class into a nationally-ranked liberal arts college — have been compiled into a comprehensive volume, Our Standard Sure, Centre College Since 1819.
Centre President John A. Roush said the book fills "a gap in the historical record."
Never miss a local story.
"In many ways it also tells a compelling story of America, from Colonial times through the Civil War and the World Wars on toward the college's third century," he said.
C. Thomas Hardin, a 1963 Centre graduate, spent the last five years combing through the college's archives and scouring flea markets, old newspapers and even eBay for all things Centre-related.
"The hunt was the true fun," said Hardin, former director of photography for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Among the book's highlights is the revelation that a Centre professor was a member of the band that played My Old Kentucky Home for the first time as part of Centre's 1861 commencement. Hardin found that reference in a 1906 Tri-Weekly Kentucky Advocate article about the professor, E. Eichhorn.
"Nobody at the college knew anything about it," Hardin said.
The handsomely printed 277-page book — with text by former Courier-Journal columnist Bob Hill — is not the first work about Centre. But earlier books focused on specific topics, most notably the 1921 upset of Harvard. The 6-0 score has been immortalized around campus in the form of something that looks like a chemical compound: C6H0.
In the third quarter of the game, quarterback Bo McMillan juked two defenders on a run for the the only score. At the time it was akin to a tiny school today beating "the University of Southern California for the national football championship," Hill wrote in the book.
The book brings many newspaper accounts and photographs of the game together for the first time, including a shot of Roscoe Arbuckle Conklin Breckinridge, who danced for the crowd during breaks in the action, giving a signal to quarterback McMillan.
Coaches at the time weren't allow to call plays. But Breckinridge signalled McMillan by rotating a bucket with the letters C-E-N-T-R-E on it to indicate different plays.
The book chronicles Centre's growth from its 1819 conception in Danville's Davenport Inn by dignitaries such as Kentucky's first governor, Isaac Shelby, to becoming a school of 1,200 today.
That history includes a lot of merging and swallowing of other colleges, such as Central College in Richmond and Kentucky College for Women in Danville. (Centre became co-ed in 1962.)
"Remember Pac-Man? It was a lot like that," Hardin said of Centre gobbling up other schools.
Some of the most intriguing finds for the book came from the strangest places, which Hardin described as "Hey Martha moments."
He discovered nearly a complete set of individual photographs of the 14 men in Centre's class of 1879 on eBay from a seller in Wisconsin. He travelled to Bloomfield in Nelson County where a woman had saved 1917 football and baseball uniforms worn by her father-in-law, Frank Talbot Allen.
And Hardin and his wife found a Kentucky College for Women book of rules at a Louisville flea market.
"I walked in with my wife, and said your job is to find a Centre item ... and three minutes later there it was," he said.
But Hardin found most of the information at the college and credited Centre's archivists who, over the years, have preserved everything from receipts for original furniture in Centre's 19th century buildings to history majors' theses about the college.
"The college is rich in its archives," Hardin said.
"And it's a testament to those real heroes."