The Arcadia Valley Academy has been towering over the Acadia Valley for over 150 years. The original Academy was built in 1846 as a Methodist High School by Jerome C. Berryman. During the civil war it served as a Union hospital from 1861-1863. In 1877 the Ursuline nuns purchased the school and turned it into a girls school. The Academy operated as a school until 1971 which marked the last graduating class. The Academy served as a convent until the nuns were moved to St. Louis in 1985. Now under private ownership the Academy has become a living antique, currently on the historic register as an historic district. The architecture is some of the most beautiful in Missouri. The chapel has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows in the world. The gymnasium has a unique roof truss system designed in Germany. The entire complex has over two hundred rooms and forty-seven toilets. The auditorium seats up to 250 people and was used for recitals, plays, and other productions.
A historical article on the Academy was printed by the Prime Time circulation which was published by Iron County Newspapers and circulated with the Mountain Echo. It reads as followed:
When the Rev. Jerome Berryman came to the Arcadia Valley his brother was already there. They decided to start a school of higher learning. It was almost pure wilderness. In 1847 when they started the school there was no Iron County or Arcadia Valley. It was called Arcadia High School. Rev. Berryman was known all over as a Methodist circuit riding preacher. Families moved here so their children could attend Berryman's school.
By 1859 Berryman has moved on and Asbury Farnham was principal. There were 109 boys and 66 girls enrolled.
At the beginning of the Civil War, the college was closed and the buildings were used as hospitals, as the Union forces occupied the area, in 1863 General Clinton Fisk insisted that the school be opened and the property reverted to Rev. Berryman. When he retired to Caledonia, Missouri, several tried to run the school, but were unsuccessful.
The young men and women attending the school received a quality education. Most were local, but a glance at the roster of students shows home towns of Pocahontas, Arkansas and many others. Tuition was $10 - $16, board, washing, lodging and fuel, $80.
In 1877 the college was sold to the Ursuline Order for $30,000. Father Hennessy of Iron Mountain pleaded with the church and they persuaded Mother Johanna to purchase the buildings and the grounds.
There were two buildings in 1877 -- one, the original 16 room building of which three rooms were habitable; the other an unfinished four story brick erected in 1870, of which three rooms were usable.
However the Sisters went right to work, and in 1878 graduated their first class of 17 boarders and some local girls. They put on an ambitious program for more than 259 guests.
The school prospered. A 1902 photo shows 50 girls gathered around an artificial lake on the grounds. The beautiful St. Joseph’s Chapel was built in 1907. A new four story wing was added in 1913, but the 1870 building burned in 1917, so immediately a three story wing was built. In 1922 another wing was added connecting to the Chaplains residence. The last building was the wonderful Gymnasium in 1930. During peak years more the 100 girls were bordered and educated there. They came from far and wide, including foreign countries.
The Sisters were asked to take charge of parochial schools of surrounding towns including Graniteville. Pilot knob and Arcadia. Just getting there was no easy task. Even when the Sisters came there in 1877 there were few houses in Arcadia. The Sisters gradually increased their holdings, until by 1913 there was sufficient acreage for a Missouri Pacific Demonstration farm.
Rules for the girls were very strict. They were asked to be silent except during recreation. The school was approved by the North Central Association, so the education offered was first rate. The music department was always available. The Auditorium was available for concerts, plays, etc. The school had a fine Library. The beautiful natural setting was enhanced by landscaping. The big spring has a lovely rock Springhouse..
Many local girls attended the school until it closed in 1971. Finally the enrollment dropped, and it was no longer possible to operate the school. However the Sisters operated a day care center and many children had the privilege of learning from the Sisters. During the past several years one of the Sisters taught in the public school.
Through the years, retreats and guests were made welcome on the campus during the summer months. 1977 was a centennial year, and although the school had closed in 1971, there was a huge celebration. Alumnae and friends came from far and wide. Many of the furnishings and keepsakes were sold and some property sold for the Senior Citizen Complex.
The property as a school has been in the Arcadia Valley longer than any town, most of the churches, and most of the homes. The campus is a concrete example of our fascinating progressive past.
Information gathered from the Berrymen Archives at the Historic Society, and the 100th Anniversary edition of the Mountain Echo, 1977, and other papers also in the Historical Society Archives.