William Newton Billingsley
Sketch On The Life Of W.N. Billingsley
Newton Billingsley was born at Pikeville, Bledsoe County, Tenn., on
November 9, 1853. His father was John M. Billingsley; his mother, Hannah
Myers Billingsley. His father was a native of Kentucky and a preacher of
the gospel; he also taught school and farmed. In 1855 his father moved to
Van Buren County, Tenn. Here the subject
of this sketch grew to manhood, and received his early training in the
public and private schools of that county.
N. Billingsley was endowed with a strong body and a vigorous mind. After
attending Union Academy, in White County, Tenn., be afterwards entered
Burritt College in 1808. He remained in this college for four years and
was graduated in 1872. After his graduation he began teaching in Eaton
Institute, in White County. While teaching in White County he was elected
Superintendent of Public Instruction for that county in January, 1887,
and served two terms in that office. He rapidly rose to prominence in the
school work and was elected president of the State Association of Public
School Officers. Under his direction the schools of White County were
graded and a uniform series of textbooks adopted. This was before there
was a uniform series of textbooks for the State of Tennessee. Through his
influence the standard qualification for teachers was raised. State and
county institutes were held in his county. His ability as an educator was
soon recognized by educators throughout the State and the South.
taught for two and a half years in Eaton Institute. He resigned his
position there to accept the principalship of Onward Seminary. He
remained here for fourteen years, and made it one of the outstanding
schools in that section of the country. In 1889 he was elected president
of Burritt College, at Spencer, Tenn. He remained president of
College for twenty-two years. He resigned as president of Burritt
College in 1911 to become a member of the faculty of the
Middle Tennessee State Normal, at Murfreesboro, Tenn., now Middle
Tennessee State Teachers' College.
Benton McMillin appointed Professor Billingsley as a member of the State
Textbook Commission in 1899, and he served on this commission until 1909.
He served as president of the State Teachers Association, and also was a
member of the State Board of Education. There was no position of boner and
trust connected with our educational activities that Professor Billingsley
did not fill with distinction and fidelity. He was appointed as
commissioner to the Paris Exposition in 1900. On this trip he made a tour
through France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, England, Scotland,
Ireland, and Wales. On this tour he visited many of the colleges and
universities of those countries.
Billingsley's greatest work was done while president of Burritt College.
He always had a full school, and he came in touch with all of his
students. It was the good pleasure
and benediction of the writer of this sketch to sit at his feet and
receive instruction from him for two years. He was always anxious to
promote his students, but he was rigid in his requirements for
thoroughness. He taught much more than the lesson contained in the
textbook: he taught the principles of honesty and integrity,
truthfulness and loyalty, fidelity and courage, to his students, and
instructed them in the principles of noble manhood and true womanhood. He
never promised reward or punishment without giving it. He taught
with firmness, punctuality, and originality. No better teacher for his day
ever entered the classroom. His habits were well regulated, and he never
deviated from his daily routine of work. He was a successful
disciplinarian. His school was well regulated and he maintained strict
order in all of his classes. He had learned well from big predecessor, W.
D. Carves, the lessons and principles which helped him to be a successful
Billingsley became a Christian in early life. He studied the Bible and
grew in grace and the knowledge of Christ Jesus. While most of his time
was occupied in teaching, yet he found time to study the Bible. He would
not he called a "preacher" in the modern sense of that term;
nevertheless, he preached the gospel with power and persuasion. He was as
regular in attending church and prayer meeting as he was in his school
work. He preached almost every Sunday at the church house in Spencer, and
taught a large Bible class every Lord's day. He gave his life to the
people of the mountains and served them faithfully to the end. No man has
done more to uplift, educate, and bless the mountain people than did Prof. W. N. Billingsley. The people
respected him and honored him for his service to them. He had a genial
nature and gave a pleasant word to all. He enjoyed a good joke and could
tell one to the delight and entertainment of his company. Many of his
students who were not Christians when they came to him learned the truth
and accepted it before returning home. As an educator, he had an influence
with all whose lives his life touched.
He was tactful in presenting the great truths of the gospel, and
seldom lost an opportunity to present these truths to his students and his
after leaving Burritt College and while a teacher in the State Normal at
Murfreesboro he became afflicted. He was taken to the hospital in
Nashville, Tenn., and underwent a surgical operation. He did not recover
from this operation. He died on March 26, 1912, at the hospital. His
body was taken back to the mountains that he loved and laid to rest by the
people whom he had served so long. The funeral oration was delivered by
Prof. L. S. Gillentine, a student and fellow teacher for a number of
years. Professor Billingsley's contribution to the cause of Christ in
service was the greatest contribution the people of the Cumberland
Mountains had ever received.
Sketches Of Gospel Preachers, H. Leo Boles,
Gospel Advocate Company, 1932, pages 412-415
Directions To The Grave
W.N. Billingsley is buried in the
old city cemetery at Spencer, Tennessee. Spencer is a beautiful old
community on the top of a mountain in the hills of central Tennessee. To
get there from Chattanooga, take I-24 travel west toward Nashville. After
crossing Monteagle, take the Manchester exit, Hwy 55 and travel east
toward McMinnville. Just east of McMinnville take Hwy.30 toward Spencer.
In Spencer you come in behind the Van Buren County Courthouse on Hwy. 30.
The road will wind around the front of the courthouse. Just as you pass it
make the first left on Sparta St. Go to the third street on the right and
turn right on Faye St. This street will come into the cemetery. Go into
the cemetery and begin going up the hill. You will see the large stone to
W.N. Billingsley on the left. Note that W.D. Carnes grave is further to the left and up
the hill from Billingsley's grave.
To Burritt College Campus
To go to the old Burritt
College campus, go back to the Courthouse and turn left. Follow Hwy 30
around a curve, and on your left will be the old entrance to the college.
The college closed in the 1930s, but the old building still stands. It is
being used for office space by the town. There is a historical society
there, but only manned by appointment. Ask for information at the Library
on the old campus ground. I was there in June, 2002.
The Old Building Is An Office Building Today.
Originally There Were Three Floors.
The Top One Was Removed A Few Years