Park Hill History
Samuel Newton and his wife, Mary, were among the earliest missionaries to the Cherokee in this area. They worked at a mission station named Forks of the Illinois, which was established in 1830 on the east side of the Illinois River close to the mouth of the Barren Fork. The spot was so unhealthy that Mary and their small daughter died. In 1837 the mission was moved three miles west to Campbell Springs. Newton named the area Park Hill because it reminded him of the estates of noblemen in England.
Park Hill Mission and Press
Park Hill soon became the site of a thriving mission. Reverend Samuel Austin Worcester, who had been a missionary and printer among the Cherokee in the East, came west to continue his work. He set up the printing press at Union Mission, but its buildings were dilapidated and the location inconvenient to the Cherokee. Worcester chose Park Hill as the permanent site for his mission and construction began in the summer of 1836. He and his family moved there soon afterwards. In June of 1837 he set up the printing press a mile further to the west of Newton’s school in a meadow overlooking the Park Hill valley. That same summer he established a church with nineteen members. Major George Lowrey soon became deacon and retained that post until his death in 1852. By 1838 the mission school had been moved up to the meadow with Samuel Newton as the teacher. Other teachers there in the 1830s were Esther Smith from Harrisburg, New York, and Sarah Ann Palmer.
At the mission printing office Worcester continued the work he had begun in the East, printing literature to educate and Christianize the Cherokee. Elias Boudinot, former editor of the Cherokee Advocate, helped with translating and printing until his death in 1839. Stephen Foreman replaced him as translator. With their help Worcester translated and printed most of the Bible in Cherokee. John F. Wheeler was the first printer, later replaced by John Candy. The press turned out textbooks, the Cherokee Almanac, religious tracts, and volumes of Cherokee hymnals.
A brick church building was completed at the mission by 1854. Cherokee Chief John Ross and merchant and planter, George M. Murrell, donated much of the money to buy the church bell.
The Park Hill Mission and Press came to an end with the Civil War. Reverend Charles Torrey came to help run the mission when Worcester became an invalid after a serious accident. Torrey became supervisor after Worcester’s death in 1859. Shortly before the war began, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions decided to close the mission because of the troubles the impending war was bringing to the region. They also believed the Cherokees were no longer a heathen people and did not require the help of missionaries. (Source: Anna Eddings, Oklahoma Historical Society)
Cherokee Female Seminary
Park Hill was also home of the Cherokee Female Seminary, a symbol of the tribe’s commitment to education. Chief John Ross held ceremonies in 1847 to lay the cornerstones for the male and female seminaries, which would be located in Tahlequah and Park Hill, respectively. Both were opened in 1851. These public educational institutions, equivalent of high schools, held students to high academic standards. Teachers were recruited from such places as Mount Holyoke School in Massachusetts and brought to the Cherokee Nation to teach Cherokee children. Daily regimens at the school included studies of Latin, math, science, rhetoric, composition, geography, philosophy, and religion. Church attendance was mandatory.
In 1887 the Female Seminary burned, creating a huge loss for the tribe. However, the Cherokee Nation was determined to rebuild. After burning the school was moved to Tahlequah which had a better water source. In 1889, a new building was dedicated on the north side of town. The seminary continued as an entity until 1909, when the state purchased the building. Subsequently, it was chosen as the site for the new Northeastern State Normal School, which has now evolved into Northeastern State University. Today, the building, known as Seminary Hall, is an icon of the NSU campus. The first Female Seminary is located at the present site of the Cherokee Heritage Center, where three brick columns salvaged from the building stand to commemorate this prestigious institution. (Source: C.W. “Dub” West, Tahlequah and the Cherokee Nation, Muskogee: Muskogee Publishing Co., 1978. Odie Faulk and Billy M. Jones, Tahlequah, NSU, and the Cherokees, Tahlequah: Northeastern State University Educational Foundation, 1984.)