Not only did the small community Creal Springs have its name put down in history as a fine resort town in the late nineteenth century, but in the fall of 1884, Creal Springs Seminary (also known as Creal Springs College and Conservatory of Music) held its first registration. Although the initial plan was to have a private girl’s school, as many boys wanted enrollment as did girls, so plans were updated immediately to accommodate them. The seminary provided courses and programs from primary to post graduate work. At the end of the first year, a total of 59 had completed their courses, broken down and quoted as follows according to Illinois Historical Society Publications:
Primary: Equivalent to the elementary schools at the time, but more difficult with more subjects. Two years of Primary studies needed for the Preparatory course.
Seven students enrolled and completed the course work.
Preparatory: Three-year course at an academic level of high school. Certificate Granted. Emphasis given to the methods of teaching, as a paragraph from the original catalog shows:
"The Powers of the Soul – feeling, willing, knowing, Brain development; the Ends and Aims of Education; Methods of teaching based on correct principles: Activity, Capacity of the Teacher; Moral Training. All these subjects are carefully taught to those who make special preparations for teaching... " 31 students enrolled.
Collegiate: Two years, leading to a degree. The studies were chosen "which improved one's mental development, such as Latin, Logic, Algebra, History, the higher sciences, etc., were taught in this department. " In later years the curriculum became more diversified, and each subject became its own department. Twelve students were enrolled.
Music: Special recognition was given the Seminary for an outstanding department, which opened at the beginning of the Spring term, March 23, 1885, with teachers from the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago. Graduate and Post-Graduate courses were offered in Piano, Organ, Voice and Harmony. Diplomas were awarded.
Nine Students were enrolled.
As was the case with many decisions being made about Creal Springs at that time in history, the community 's well assets were a driving force behind the development of the Seminary. At a mass meeting in the fall of'1883, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clay Murrah were asked to develop the project. Murrah, also had come to the family farm in Johnston City with his parents from Nashville, Tennessee at an early age, had attended and graduated from Southern Illinois Normal (now Southern Illinois University in Carbondale). His wife Gertrude Brown, was sister to Creal Springs Doctor Curtis Brown, a cohort of Edward Creal. She also had attended Southern Illinois Normal along with Ewing College. In 1875, when she graduated from Mt. Carroll Seminary (later, Frances Shimer College), it is said that she was the only woman in Southern Illinois having a college degree. She, being an individual with an in depth educational and religious background, was an ideal choice when selecting the school's first principal.
Mr. and Mrs. Edward Creal donated five acres in the north part of town for the Seminary. The Methodist Church is now located on the grounds. With their own money, the Murrahs built the Seminary on the rise just southeast of the church. It stood three stories tall (all pictures today show four) and covered 1500 square feet on each plus a basement. In 1890 and 1895, additional wings were added to provide the additional space required.
A limited number of girls at a time could be housed in the main facility, with the rest being required to have their living quarters in private homes of the community. The Seminary had a curfew and lights out policy at 9 p.m., meaning all activities for the day stopped. The chief social activity was the regular Friday night meeting of the Erina Literary Society. The primary object was "the improvement of it 's members in the various exercises of music, debate, recitation and reading; the cultivation of those styles and graces of delivery essential to perfection in any of the above cases. " The Society published a regular pamphlet, The Erina Star, copies of which are still available for viewing in the Morris Memorial Library at Southern Illinois University. On January 5, 1894, the Baptists purchased the Seminary from the Murrahs, giving them an $8,000 mortgage, which was never paid. The name was changed to Creal Springs College and Conservatory of Music. Mrs. Murrah was elected as President and Principal at that time. The Murrahs felt that this would give the college better name recognition and that it would more likely be able to obtain an endowment. Under the Baptist control the school was more departmentalized with the following courses being offered:
Classical: Four years for an A. B. degree, Latin Scientific : Four years for a B. S., Philosophical : Three years for a Ph. D., Academic : Three years
Normal : In connection with other courses; English Elocution, four years; Commercial, Three years; Bible, Three years; Spanish, two years; Stenography, one year
Piano, Graduate Course, four years; Piano, Post-Graduate Course or Artist 's Course, one or two years; Voice or Organ, two years; Guitar, one to two years
After only four years of post-graduate study, M. A. degrees were conferred upon those who had earned their A. B. or B. S. Students completing the course of study in the Normal Department were qualified for a life certificate in Illinois. Honorary degrees of Doctor of Divinity and Doctor of Laws also were conferred.
Today we often do not recognize the term or course, English Elocution, but in those days recitations, readings, and formal declarations were popular forms or features for afternoon and evening programs. To us, a generation so familiarized with the many medias of today for entertainment; television, movies, radio, and etc., would probably consider the formal elocution style a little over-drawn. The students were taught the methodology of utilizing their hands and facial expressions to help convey the meaning and importance by the elucated performer, Something that would never be possible today, in a time of specialization and powerful unions, critiquing of the instructor was mandatory for all students. This task was required for each student to criticize and to classify all undertakings of the instructors. Extra-curricular activities, such as glee clubs, literary societies, school publications, and oratorical contests are said to have been instrumental in promoting friendly attitudes between students and instructors.
A dispute still exists over the actual number, but the 1909-1910 school year is said to have been the largest enrollment. Figures of as much as 230 enrollees have been tossed around but all indications that the enrollment may have been 104 seems to be more accurate according to documents. Regardless of its large enrollment, the school started to decline after that point because of financial problems. The Baptists had contributed no money and the Murrahs were aging too fast to be concerned and cope with the finances, had to face reality. On Christmas Eve in 1916, the Creal Springs College and Music Conservancy closed its doors for the final time.