W.H. Ford Male and Female College/Powell Hotel
by Jonnie Miller
In 1889 the W. H. Ford Male and Female College was chartered with Joseph F. Syler as president. The school later became the town's public high school. The population of the area hovered between 150 and 200 throughout the 1880's and 1890's when Newton had four general stores, saw, grist and flour mills and two or three hotels.
Originally, W.H. Ford M & F College was the only school in town. Most of the schools were in the outlying areas. There might have been 20 or 30 one-room schools throughout the county. The schools also doubled as churches. Students sat together in the same room and worked at different levels. It was a simpler time and a simpler curriculum. However, the two-story college in Newton was financed by private funds and the lower students were educated on the first floor and the higher level students trekked upstairs to the second story. Both were large open spaces and at one time there were two sets of stairs, one for the boys and one for the girls. The school only operated about 20 years before the number of students outgrew the facility. The building was then sold to a couple who had attended the school and moved to the present location across from the courthouse. A new brick building was built in its place.
In 1914 the original building was sold again to Joseph Dallas Powell who turned it into a hotel. He petitioned off rooms both downstairs and upstairs and removed one of the staircases. There were 10 rooms upstairs for visitors and the lower level had a kitchen, and other rooms, a reading room and a dining room as well as others. The Powells ran the hotel until 1954 when their health began to fail. Their unmarried daughter, Helen returned in 1952 and took care of the business and her parents until their death. She continued to live there in one room downstairs after they died. Eventually, the hotel was turned over to the Newton County Historical Commission and restored and reopened in in 2001. Many artifacts of the old school and hotel can be seen there today. Community organizations often meet there also and from November through February you'll find some of the best homemade soup and cornbread every Tuesday. This is the NCHC's only fundraiser for maintenance for the Powell Hotel. If you come in the spring you'll be able to walk in the rose garden on the side and back of the hotel.
--Jonnie Miller, NCHC CHAIR