LMU’s Unusual Roots

By Mike Steely

Most Knox County residents know that Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate operates the Duncan School of Law downtown, located in the former Knoxville City Council building. But you probably don’t know the history of LMU which grew out of a failed dream of an English speculator.

The Duncan School of Law opened in Knoxville in 1995 with 95 students. Last year 300 students graduated.

Alexander Arthur arrived in the Cumberland Gap area following the Civil War and formed the American Association, LTD. His idea was to develop the area as an industrial center. He built the huge Four Seasons Hotel on a hill just south of the historic gap, said to be the largest hotel in the world at the time. Arthur wanted to tap the coal and iron resources and sought investments from wealthy Americans.

The industrialist formed Middlesboro, Ky., and Harrogate, Tn. and the small community of Arthur, Tn., is named for him. Despite getting  $20 million from English investors and buying up 700 acres Arthur’s dreams fell short. He built the Four Season Hotel, a 700-room facility complete with a dining hall, casino and separate sanitarium.

A financial panic and the remoteness of the hotel saw it close after only one year. It was sold for $25,000 and much of the complex demolished.

A group led by former Union General O. O. Howard, a founder of Howard University,  bought the property and developed a college named in honor of Abraham Lincoln. Arthur moved to Alaska to chase gold but came back to Middlesboro, where he is buried.

The Lincoln Memorial University is a liberal arts college on 1,000 acres that borders the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. On the campus is the well-known Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum that houses a huge collection of items honoring Lincoln and the American Civil War.  East Tennessee was the center of Union loyalty during the conflict.

Within the museum is Lincoln’s walking cane, a lock of his hair, the Lincoln family tea set, various documents written or signed by the president, and decorations from his casket.

The museum is open 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon – 5 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Sundays. You can call the museum at 423-869-6235 or find it on Facebook or at www.lmunet.edu.

Middlesboro is about a two hour drive from Knoxville and, while in the area, you may also want to visit the Alexander Arthur Museum and the Coal House in Middlesboro. On your way to or from Harrogate along Highway 25E you may also want to drive through Tazewell and take a look at the renovation of a historic gas station in that old city or visit the Confederate burials there.

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