History of the Restoration Movement

Dr. Louis C. Chisholm


Long Time Dentist, Community Leader And Member Of The Church of Christ in Tuscumbia, Alabama

"Elm Crag" & Tolbert Fanning
by L.C. Chisholm

It is with timidity and a becoming degree of reverence that I attempt to write anything in regard to this remarkable man; but at the request of Prof. James E. Scobey, who is collecting data for a book whose object is to put to record in permanent form as much of his life work as can be gathered at this late day, I have consented to give what I can call to mind during my intercourse with him at various times up to his death.

If I ever came in touch with a broad-minded man, it was Tolbert Fanning. But by this I do not mean he was "broad" in the popular use of that term, which is conservatism and a compromising attitude on all subjects, with antagonism to none. He was as far from that as the east is from the west. His views were as broad as. the realm of creation, yet as circumscribed as the immutable laws of Jehovah. His field of thought embraced the mineral, the vegetable, and the animal kingdom; and his aim in life was to develop all these to the highest degree, to fulfill the sphere assigned to each by their Creator. In his broad conception, every creature had its own mission to fulfill to bless man and honor God. He viewed man as the executive power under God to develop, utilize, and appropriate all according to the divine will. Hence the education of man gave strength to the mainspring of the machinery of creation. Therefore his mind dwelt chiefly upon developing the powers of man. His close observations of the animal creation was marvelous. His judgment. from the domestic fowl, the dog, the pig, the sheep, and the cow to the horse, was not surpassed, if equaled, by any of his day. But as man was the crown piece of creation, his highest interest centered upon his development. Therefore man must be brought into daily contact with vegetable and animal life to learn by experience the best methods of growing and utilizing them for the good of mankind. To this end he bought a tract of land five miles east of Nashville, Tenn., where he established a "manual labor school" for training boys to meet the responsibilities of life. He named the school "Elm Crag," from a craggy bluff near the dwelling, from which flowed a good supply of cool water, shaded around with large red elm trees at that time. His conception of a training school was grand, could his ideas have been practically carried out; but he failed to take in the condition of society. His original plans were for the boys to work part of the time and pay only half the usual expenses, thus enabling many poor boys to obtain an education. But desiring a large patronage, he took boys who paid full expenses without working. This made an unfortunate distinction of pupils. Besides, those boys who worked two or three hours per day felt more like sleep than study on going to the recitation room. It imposed too much upon the working boys to keep up in the same classes with those having all their time for study. He saw his mistake, and admitted it. All should have worked or none. Mrs. C. Fanning profited by this, and very wisely required that all pupils of the Fanning Orphan School should be placed upon a level, so far as domestic work is concerned.

My first acquaintance with Mr. Fanning was in 1842 at a big meeting he held in the little town of Russellville, Ala., at which time he had two hundred additions, I being one of the number.

In 1843 I went to his Elm Crag School, but remained only a short time. I was not pleased with Elm Crag as suited to my wants at the time, and set in with John M. Barnes, who was teaching at Old Lasea, Maury County, Tenn., and remained with him three years.

When Elm Crag merged into Franklin College, I visited it occasionally. During one vacation the students of Franklin College were sent out on excursions. President Fanning, with one lot, went into West Tennessee; Prof. A. J. Fanning, with a party, went to the Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky; while a third party made a geological tour South. My teacher, John M. Barnes, and I went with the latter crowd of about twenty students under the control of Professor Fall, of languages; Professor Loom is, of natural science; and Professor Cook, of music. Among the young men were the pick of the musicians at the college, who gave a free concert at every town or village we passed. The people were so carried away with the music that they gave us an abundance of supplies all along our route (for we camped under a good tent every night).

When we reached Huntsville, Ala., we pitched our tent hard by the city, and announced a free concert in the courthouse that night (Friday). We had a fair audience, and the young men did full justice to the occasion. The next morning a committee of gentlemen came to our tent and notified us that the city authorities had arranged with the two hotels for our accommodations free of charge while we remained there. The professors gladly accepted. Our camp equipage was taken in charge, and we were all assigned rooms in the two hotels.

Announcement was made at once for a free concert at night. In the meantime the professors, who were all young men, began to be introduced to the young ladies of the city; and the boys followed their example, till the city was all aglow with promenades, flowers, and bouquets. The boys seemed to be on stilts, and at night the courthouse was jammed, while flowers showered like meteors upon the musicians.

On Sunday, Professor Barnes preached a big discourse, and all the afternoon and night was spent by the young men in gallanting his lovely Huntsville girl.

On Monday morning we were to move on, according to our programme; but another committee waited upon the professors, J. F. Demoville being the speaker, insisting upon a concert for the special benefit of the old people, in which an anthem, "The Earth is the Lord's and the Fullness Thereof," must be rendered. It took but little suasion to carry the point. On Monday night the old people of Huntsville had the front seats, and two courthouses could not have seated the crowd. Professor Cook, with all his boys, felt the magnitude of the occasion, and surpassed themselves on all former occasions, to the delight of all present.

On Tuesday morning we had to leave early to reach a barbecue which we had been notified would be given us at Savanah, Ala. When the time came, nearly every student and professor had a sweetheart that he must tell good-by. Huntsville girls did not rise in those days in time for calls from young men and give them a very early start; but there was no use in grumbling, for that call had to be made by the professors especially, if it consumed half the day. For a time the boys had no leader, till young Carmack, of Mississippi, assumed the role of leader and sent messengers all over the city to find the professors. Finally he got them "rounded up," and we all had to "double-quick" to make the barbecue.

From that time on the interest in geology seemed to fag.

But to return. My acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Fanning had impressed me that they both were the most trustworthy educators in the Southern States. At the close of the war we entered some of our children in their schools. In 1867 we moved to Franklin College, mainly for school advantages, and settled near the school, placing all our children under their instruction.

I lived a near neighbor to Mr. Fanning and worshiped in the same congregation with him to the close of his eventful life. With this long and intimate acquaintance, I can truly say that Tolbert Fanning had but few, if any, equals in his day. He was a strong man from every standpoint. As an educator, he had no peer in Tennessee. His work along that line gives ample proof of the fact. As a public speaker, his style was simply inimitable. His voice was strong, and his articulation was distinct. As a preacher, he was always logical and scriptural. He appealed to the common understanding of his audience, holding it spellbound to his subject. As a neighbor, he was kind and generous. He was energetic and pushing in all his business. In worship he was humble and fervent in spirit. But, like all Adam's race, he had his likes and dislikes, and made no pretensions to perfection. He loved the dog and the horse, and delighted in seeing them brought up to their highest capacity. For this he was often criticized, even by his brethren, and often maligned and misrepresented by religious enemies; but he was as indifferent to all these charges as the limestone rocks of Elm Crag.

Mr. Fanning's death was premature, and resulted from his strong will. He died from internal hemorrhage from the following cause: He went out to the lot, as usual, to see the stock. He ordered Frank Manier to lead out of his stall a fine bull. Prank hesitated, saying, "I am afraid of the animal," which rather vexed Mr. Fanning; and he stepped in to do the work. The bull made a lunge at him, and came near killing him upon the spot; but he was carried to the house, and doctors were called in, and in a week or two he was able to walk around some. One morning soon afterwards he concluded to walk to the lot. On returning, he made some exertion getting over the steps, and felt some internal viscera break or tear loose, from which he suffered great agony from Thursday morning till Sunday at 11:30 A.M., when death came to his relief. I was with him night and day till he died. On that Sunday morning it was evident to him that the end was rapidly approaching, and he requested the brethren to hold services in his room. Though it was clear to all present that, he was rapidly sinking, he directed the entire service. After the communion, the brethren seemed to forget to sing and dismiss the audience; but he said: "Sing, brethren, and dismiss the audience." They did so, with much emotion. A few minutes later two of his neighbor gentlemen called in. He called each by name and asked them to be seated. In less than five minutes he breathed his last, as if dropping off into a restful sleep. Thus passed away one of Tennessee's greatest benefactors. His work in agriculture, horticulture, and stock raising went far toward building up the State along these lines. The influence of his writing and preaching cannot be estimated. He and his wife leave behind them a fitting monument of praise to their life's work in the Fanning Orphan School.

L. C. CHISHOLM, Franklin College And Its Influences, pages 215-220

Contributed by Terry J. Gardner, 06.2012

Directions To The Grave Of L.C. Chisholm

Dr. L.C. Chisholm is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Tuscumbia, Alabama. From the Hwy. 72 and Hwy 43 intersection in Tuscumbia head west toward Corinth. In less than a mile take a right on William F. Gardner Avenue. The cemetery will be on your left.

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