Jeffersontown Academy Served as Long-Standing Educational Institution
Near the corner of Watterson Trail and Bluebird Lane is Jeffersontown Rehabilitation, a nursing home facility run by the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society. Modern buildings now occupy the site that once boasted an impressive stone structure whose final incarnation was the Louisville Lutheran Home for the aged. Prior to that, in the early 1900s, the structure served as home to the Mittler family, but its history goes back much further still.
The enormous stone structure with 18” to 22” walls and walnut floor joists began its life as the Jeffersontown Academy, a school built with the permission of the Lutheran Church Council in 1836.
Although it was run by Reverend George Yeager, a Lutheran minister, it was never conducted as a denominational school. Many students at the academy were children of local Lutheran Church members, but the building also served as a boarding school with a nationwide reputation, drawing many pupils from the southern United States and as far away as South America. A biographical sketch of Major Robert Anderson, who was commander at Fort Sumter at the onset of the Civil War, stated that he was educated at the Jeffersontown Academy – although there is some doubt regarding the veracity of this claim, he did live in the vicinity and was friends with William Goose, Jr., who attended the Lutheran Church in Jeffersontown.
The school served both boys and girls, many of whom have descendants still living in the area. Recognizable names of some former students include Blankenbaker, Funk, Goose, Hoke, Hughes, Muster, Seabolt and Tucker.
In 1843, Yeager was appointed editor and agent of the Lutheran Observer, so he procured a new pastor named Mr. McChesney for the local Lutheran Church and rented his school room to a teacher named Mr. Fowler. Another teacher who wished to open a school, Mr. Poel, became a partner of Mr. Fowler, with the consent of Yeager, and the school started in the spring of that year.
Yeager became dissatisfied with the teachers and students, and decided to take back his schoolroom before the teachers’ time was up. He mounted his horse, and on the way to preach at Pope Lick one Sunday morning, he asked Goose to help him repossess his house the following day. Goose advised him not to do so, as he might get into trouble.
The following Monday, Yeager removed the contents of the teachers and students from the building and secured the doors. Gossip about the situation drew out numerous citizens who wanted to watch the confrontation. They were not disappointed – the teachers demanded the doors be opened, but Yeager refused. When the teachers decided to force open the door, Yeager ran into his house to get a gun. Disregarding his wife’s pleas to put down the gun, Yeager declared he would shoot Poel. A bystander took the loaded gun from Yeager, and the teachers took back possession of the room to resume their classes.
Although it had several different teachers and principals through the years, the academy remained under the aegis of Yeager until 1860, when he conveyed the property to the Jeffersontown Joint Stock School Company, also known as the Jeffersontown Union Literary Institute. The trustees eventually sold the school to George E. Roberts for $2,500. At some point the school’s name apparently changed, as on May 7, 1866, the Louisville Daily Journal noted that “G.E. Roberts, Esq., long and favorably known as Principal of one of our Ward Schools, has purchased the property at Jeffersontown known as the Jefferson Collegiate Institute, and will open a school in the same, under the title of Jeffersontown Academy, on the first of September next.” The same article mentions that “the Academy is located at Jeffersontown, yet sufficiently removed from the village to be free from annoyance, either from the business occupation of the citizens, or from the travel on the main road.”
The students likely needed the peace and quiet they were afforded at the school, as they appeared to be quite conscientious about their studies. Whereas modern students are expected to complete at least twelve years of education, children in the 1800s were expected to cram a considerable amount of education into just a few short years – eighth grade was typically the pinnacle of an education, and most children did not make it that far, because they were required to help with household responsibilities as soon as they were old enough. However, many students advanced at a rather quick pace, and by the fifth year of school some students read at what is considered college level by today’s standards.
Children who attended Jeffersontown Academy studied higher mathematics, rhetoric, philosophy, Latin, Greek, German, United States history and the Constitution, vocal and instrumental music, and gymnastic exercises. Their examinations included a public program in front of hundreds of residents to demonstrate skill at arithmetic, dialogues, recitations, songs, tableaux, and gymnastic exercises. Of special note is the appreciation for the study of German – Jeffersontown was primarily settled by Germans who took a great deal of pride in their heritage, and this lasted late into the 1800s. The Daily Courier noted on January 25, 1868, how the public showed “considerable interest” in the German examination, although “no part of the exercises excited as much interest as the gymnastics.”
After the death of George E. Roberts, the property passed to his heirs. The school may have ceased to exist around 1895, when the property was deeded to Helena Mittler, whose heirs sold it in 1925 to the Louisville Lutheran Home. The huge stone structure was eventually removed to make way for more modern facilities, but the parcel of land on which it sat continues to serve good purpose within our community.