Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Charles Carlton: The Move to Bonham

Bonham Daily Favorite, April 4, 1993

Although there is some evidence that the Bonham Masonic Female Institute may have ceased operation during the years of the Civil War, it is clear that by 1867 the school was in difficulty. Either the lack of students, underfunding, or lack of an adequate faculty seemed to have done irreparable harm under the current regime.

Hardly had Charles Carlton set up operations in the Disciples of Christ church building in Kentuckytown when families from all over north Texas were responding to his vaunted reputation as an educator. In fact enrollment at the new academy drew from nearly every part of the state as parents eager for the best education for their children rushed to insure that the children had a place in Carlton's classrooms.

It is little wonder then that this remarkable man would attract the attention of the education committee of Constantine Lodge in Bonham. Carlton was interviewed at length and in all meetings he took pains to insure that members of the committee were well aware of his philosophy favoring co-education. Many of his ideas along these lines were somewhat advanced for the times.

Ultimately the lodge committee offered Carlton the opportunity to take charge of the Masonic Institute. Undoubtedly the option of obtaining established educational facilities superior to the makeshift establishment he was using at Kentuckytown was a major factor in Carlton's decision to accept the offer.

It was also Carlton's understanding that the agreement offered him the privilege of actually purchasing the facility from the lodge and that the lodge would assist him in obtaining a dwelling near the school.

Once again the Carlton family moved and in September, 1867 the school was opened for the fall term. At this point it seems that Carlton began to refer to his establishment as the Bonham Seminary, obviously deleting the word "female." It seems that the reopening of the school under Carlton's terms caused no disagreement among the lodge members.

It is clear that from the first young men were admitted to the school. The beginning of the fall term saw Addison Clark applying to Mr. Carlton for a student assistantship.

In replying to Clark's application, Carlton, writing on October 6, 1867, stated "We opened school last Monday with about one hundred and nine scholars, and now there are about one hundred and twenty with a prospect for a further increase." He also mentioned that some of Clark's former classmates, James Knox and John Templeton had enrolled.

A note written by Carlton's step-son, Frank Abernathy, at the same time, also mentioned other pupils - Hodge, the Dugan boys, Giles, T & Joel Nail. Abernathy also stated that Carlton had told him that the enrollment was the largest with which he had ever opened.

With Carlton's encouragement and Frank Abernathy's plea for help with his department, Addison Clark returned to Bonham. Randolph joined him later although his attendance was intermittent.

Some of the students enrolled in those early years often spoke later of the splendid education they received at the hands of Charles Carlton and his staff. Although at first first diplomas were not issued, the curriculum was a good example of the traditional nineteenth century classical education. Among the courses offered were arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus and surveying in the Mathematics Department. Scientific offerings included astronomy, physics, botany, chemistry, and geology. Latin and French were in the foreign language curriculum and later German and Greek were added. English was mainstay in each year's program and Literature of various kinds were stressed. Bible study was also stressed and after the awarding of diplomas was instituted, two years of Bible study were required, one in Old testament and one in New Testament.

From descriptions provided by former students, it would seem that Carlton employed some aspects of the Socratic method of instruction. The choice of courses was left up to the individual students wishes. Members of the faculty conducted some classes in which student attendance was mandatory but generally the student was allowed a great deal of latitude and much self directed study. It was remarked that often the students could be seen sitting under trees on the campus engaged in some particular study and the teachers were called on only when some assistance was needed to arrive at a solution.

Both the Clark brothers remarked that most often in the evening Carlton would conduct informal classes along the lines of a seminar and it was at the sessions that each man obtained the knowledge he was so eager to have. Addison Clark wrote, "I have known many good teachers, but I have not known another man who could have so perfectly fitted the conditions of those times. Knowledge was what we wanted and we wanted it early and late and in large quantities; and it was never sought for as to time and quantity in vain. We had found the man who was as inexhaustible as our thirst was unceasing."

​In these early years of the Institute a interesting approach to examinations was implemented by Carlton. Certainly written tests were administered by teachers in their respective subjects, but it seems that the closing or final examinations were administered in a more public forum. All the students were required to be in attendance in the public hall at the school. As each class was to be examined the students for that particular class took their seats on a platform at the front of the room. And as this was a public event, members of the community were specifically requested to be in attendance at the event. The teachers passed from one to student to another asking a variety of questions about the subject at hand. Often visiting teachers or ministers were asked to participate in the questioning.

Undoubtedly this public method was good advertising for the quality of education being dispensed by Carlton's staff, assuming that the students performed up to expectations. The exercises must have been popular with all the citizens of Bonham, not just the parents of those enrolled.

Announcements of the exercises appear in newspapers of the period as well as follow-up items reporting on the successful completion of the program. In all cases it was reported that attendance was good.

The first year of operation under Carlton's direction must have proved more than satisfactory to the education committee of Constantine Lodge. In order to insure his continuing presence in Bonham, the proposal was made to him that he purchase the school. On April 17, 1868 the transaction was completed upon receipt of $1500 paid by Sarah Carlton to the Lodge trustees of the facility.