LARISSA COLLEGE. Larissa College, among the earliest institutions of higher learning in Texas, was located in Larissa, in northwestern Cherokee County. In 1846 Thomas H. McKee had led a group of Cumberland Presbyterians from Tennessee there and founded a town, which they named Larissa after an ancient Greek center of learning. In 1848 the colonists organized the first school in a log hut on the outskirts of the settlement. Classes were originally taught by McKee's daughter, Sarah Rebecca Erwin. In 1850 a three-story frame academic hall and two dormitories were built, and the school became known as Larissa Academy. In 1855 the Brazos Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church assumed responsibility for the school, renamed it Larissa College, and established male and female departments and a preparatory school. McKee and another early settler, Nathaniel Killough, each donated $1,000 to the new college. Franklin L. Yoakum was the school's first and only president. The charter, which contained a "no religious test" clause, was approved by the state legislature on February 2, 1856.
From the beginning, however, the school was plagued by financial problems. During the academic year 1857–58 the number of students declined, and the female department was briefly suspended. In 1859 the enrollment rebounded, and school officials were able to purchase a large $700 telescope, said to have been the most powerful in the South at the time. On the eve of the Civil War the college had an enrollment of 144 and a faculty of a half dozen. Four seniors, two men and two women, were awarded diplomas in the spring of 1860. When the war began, the college was forced to close. It reopened after the war, but in 1866 the Brazos Synod withdrew its support after the decision was made to establish one large school, Trinity University, rather than finance several smaller colleges as the synod had previously done. Without the financial backing of the church, the trustees were forced to close the school. Some of the remaining equipment was sold to Trinity. In 1936 the Texas Centennial Commission placed a historic marker at the site.
Robert Douglas Brackenridge, Voice in the Wilderness: A History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Texas (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1968). Thomas H. Campbell, History of Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Texas (Nashville: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House, 1936). Cherokee County History (Jacksonville, Texas: Cherokee County Historical Commission, 1986). Nellie Jean Evans, A History of Larissa College (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1941). Fred Hugo Ford and J. L. Browne, Larissa (1930?; rev. ed., Jacksonville, Texas: McFarland, 1951). William Franklin Ledlow, History of Protestant Education in Texas (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1926). Hattie Joplin Roach, A History of Cherokee County (Dallas: Southwest, 1934).