Family History of Charles Cecil
I am William Cecil, a fifth generation decendant of Charles
Cecil who resided in Marion County around 1828 when he left and moved to the
present area called Cecilia in Hardin County. He married Rebecca Goehegan. She
was a wealthy only child who had inherited some 1300 acres of prime farm land.
His oldest son, Professor Henry A. Cecil, returned to Marion County, I believe
it was part of Washington County at that time and taught at St. Mary’s Academy
for a few years. He had recently graduated from Georgetown University in
Washington, D.C. He left and returned to Cecilia and started his own college in
I know nothing of Charles Cecil before he came to Hardin County and am wondering if he has any connection to you are anyone else in the area. I am doing research because I am part owner of the last 58 acres that was once part of thousands of acres owned by Charles and his heirs. I am in discussion with the school board to sell part of that land for a new elementary school.
Below is the extent of my knowledge for the history of Charles Cecil in Hardin County.
William Cecil bcecil1698[at]aol.com
A SCHOOL RETURNS TO CECILIA
A Possible Site for
“CECILIAN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL”
The earliest record of the Cecil family in Hardin County dates back to 1828 when Charles Cecil, formerly from Maryland, then living in what is today Marion County Kentucky, married Rebecca Goeghegan in Hardin County. I have no knowledge of what Charles owned or did in Marion County or how he came to meet his future wife. I do know Rebecca owned considerable land that she had inherited from her father. The couple had 10 children during their 35 year marriage. Three of the children died prior to their first birthday and a fourth boy died at age sixteen. The four remaining males all eventually became college professors. Their first child, Henry A. Cecil was considered a very gifted scholar and quickly became involved in education. As a young man in his twenties, he opened his own private school in a log house in the Cecilian area. There he quickly earned a reputation as a gifted teacher. He taught many of the sons of the area and even had some students from other counties. After teaching for several years, he decided to go to Georgetown College in Washington D. C. to add to his formal education. After graduating from Georgetown, he became a professor at St. Mary’s Academy in Marion County. Only a few years later he again desired to operate his own school. With his father’s assistance and encouragement, Henry returned to Cecilian and at the age of 30, in 1860 established the Cecilian College. Henry was named the president and remained in that role until his death in 1893 at the age of 63. His three brothers, Thomas, Ambrose, and Charles joined him as professors. Under Henry’s leadership the college became quiet successful. It was considered one of the most prosperous colleges in Kentucky for many years.
A January 23, 1893 issue of the Elizabethtown News wrote the following upon Henry’s death. “Prof. H.A. Cecil, President of the Cecilian College and one of the foremost educators of the state, died at his home near Cecilian.” The article continued, “In his career as College President for thirty-two years, he had educated thousands of young men in all parts of the United States and not one of them but will hear of his death with regret and sorrow.” The names of a few prominent graduates of Cecilian College were listed in a news account of Professor Cecil's funeral. A Professor C.P. Plummer of Vanderbilt University, The Honorable T.A. Robertson, a Rev. George Montgomery who served as coadjutor of the Bishop of San Francisco, and a Rev. C.A. Oliver of Mississippi. Obviously, the student body was not just young men from Hardin County or even just Kentuckians.
Another article from the Elizabethtown News, September 13, 1906 announced the death of my great grandfather Professor Ambrose Cecil and described him as “…a teacher in the Cecilian College, which during the 60’s was one of the most thriving colleges in Kentucky.”
Charles and Rebecca Cecil’s family had over 1300 acres in the Cecilia area when they married. Rebecca was an only child and had inherited most of that land. There are records where they bought and sold hundreds of acres. While these thirty-eight acres of land being purchased by the Hardin County School Board has been in the Cecil family for over a hundred years, it was probably not part of Charles and Rebecca’s original homestead. When Rebecca died, she willed various parcels of the land that had been in her family to each of her surviving children. This particular acreage was owned by Charles’ son and Henry’s brother, Professor Ambrose Cecil. When Rebecca died, Ambrose inherited 218 acres. Prof. Ambrose had been a professor at the college for over twenty years before retiring and becoming a prominent business man and farmer. He and his wife Emma had thirteen children, only seven of whom were living when he passed away in 1906. Upon his death, his will transferred 100 or more acres to each of those seven surviving children. The division of that land caused a deep split in the family as different sons and daughters thought they should have inherited different parcels of the land. Some of the brothers and sisters severed all contact with other families for the rest of their lives. To my mothers credit, my part of that Cecil family maintained good relations with all of them.
Prof. Ambrose willed to his oldest son Dr. Benedict Henry Cecil, named after his uncle the college president, about 100 acres of farm land that included this particular parcel. His uncle had been called H.A. all his life. The family referred to Doc Cecil, as he was called in the area, as H.B. Ambrose Cecil’s home, which was a large two story structure, stood on the little knoll exactly where the U.S. Post office is today. The children did not inherit the family home, and it was given to St. Ambrose Church and modified into a very large two room school. I attended school in that building for six years in the 1940’s. The school was divided into two sections, Big Room with grades 5-8 and Little Room grades 1-4.
Dr. Cecil was my grandfather. He and his wife, Elizabeth Holbert had two children, my father, Col. Sylvester Cecil, and my Aunt Sue Cecil Wimberg. Dad had been an U. S. Army officer assigned to the Civil Conservation Corp during much of the depression. He returned to Cecilia in 1937. My family consisting of Mother, Dad, and 5 children lived in a three room house (one bedroom) on this farm from 1937 until 1940. The house had no electricity and no running water. My mother who is presently 102 and living in Dallas, TX, often talks of living on the farm at that time, away from everything and everybody, with her husband and 5 children, as one of her favorite times. Modern conveniences were not expected things in those days. I certainly did not think of myself or my family as being poor. But I suppose I was if you only look at finances. Horses, cows, a couple of pigs and two ponds loaded with catfish! What more could a young boy want. I lived in Cecilia until 1952.
In 1959, after college, marriage and military service, I returned to Cecilia and was an employee of the Hardin County School Board for seven years. I taught mathematics and physics at West Hardin High School from 1962 to 1969. G. C. Burkhead was the Superintendent. Due to the health of my son, I left Cecilia and moved to Florida in 1969. I have made it a point to return to Cecilia at least once a year ever since I moved. This parcel is from the last 58 acres of the thousands of acres once owned in the Cecilia area by Charles Cecil or his sons and daughters.
When I inherited a share of it when my father died in 1971, I decided that it should not be sold except for a park or a school. I have watched over this land for the last 40 years hoping that this might some day happen. I wanted something that would last, have a positive impact on Cecilia and in some way allow the Cecil heritage to remain a part of Cecilia. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Cecilia was the educational center of this part of Kentucky. It had Cecilian College for boys, Bethlehem Academy for girls, a public school for grades 1-8, and a Catholic school for 1-8. By early 1930, when the public school left Cecilia and moved to Howevalley, that era came to an end. I find it all together fitting that this land should once again be home to an institution of learning. I find it very appropriate to ask that the school be named, “Cecilian Elementary School.” I discussed this with Bob Owsley, Chairman of the Board of The Cecilian Bank, and he quickly endorsed the idea and promised a nice bronze plaque with a brief history behind that name to be at the entrance of the school.
OTHER RANDOM THOUGHTS-----------------------
It never seems to be clearly established exactly what the town of Cecilia was called before Charles Cecil moved to the area. The railroad had reached that area and a station was established. It was a water stop for the steam engine trains coming out of Louisville. Some say it was called the Rudes Creek Station (also Rhudes Creek) and (West Rhudes Creek). The first creek leaving what is now Cecilia was then referred as Dry Branch Creek. I lived with that creek in my back yard for 7 or 8 years. Any extended dry spell would always see it stop running and become a series of non connected pools. Thus, Dry Branch Creek was an appropriate name.
Around the time the college was established in 1860, the town was called Cecilian Station. News paper articles seem to show that the word Station was dropped by 1880 and it seemed to be called Cecilian by both the railroad and the post office. Sometime around 1912, the town dropped the n, and became Cecilia. The Cecilian Bank was established in 1903 and still carries the Cecilian name. I feel sure the Cecilian Station designation came about around 1870 by the fact that the Cecilian College was the first visible sign of Cecilia out a right side window as a train from Louisville would slow to take on water at the large wooden water tower that marked the town. It was torn down when steam engines went out of use in the early 1950’s. I always wanted to climb to the top of that tower, but never did.
One fact in researching the educational history of this land. I found that Henry A. Cecil graduated from Georgetown University. Interesting, because my nephew, Ann Cecil Murphy’s son, Mark Murphy, is at this time a Professor of Philosophy at that same Georgetown University! Six generations after Charles Cecil sent his son off to Georgetown University, a new branch on that family tree is now a professor there. I have assigned Mark the task of researching H. A. Cecil’s record there to see if he graduated with distinction as I have always been lead to believe.
I have been trying to trace the career of the Honorable T.A. Robertson. I found him mentioned in the 1880 Kentucky Law Journal on page 46. He was cited as having been elected to a six year term as Commonwealth Attorney for the 18th District. I am beginning to suspect that T. A. was the son of George Robertson who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Count of Kentucky and was mentioned on three different occasions as being nominated to rise to the United States Supreme Count. The ages seem correct, but I have been unable to find information on Geroge Robertson’s family
I know there has been a rumor for years that one of the graduates of Cecilian College achieved Supreme Court status. Not sure that is true, but I am assuming T.A. Robertson would be the principal person in the rumor. Not hard over a hundred years for a story about the son of a chief justice being modified to where the son was the Chief Justice.
I don't have a clue about Charles Cecil before his marriage to Rebecca. He apparently was well educated and must have stressed education to his sons. He well could have been a man seeking a wealthy widow and found something even better in a young lady with no parents and lots of land! Have to search through records in Marion County. Actually it was Washington County when he lived there and was later divided into Washington and Marion.
Charles and Rebecca had two girls, Susan who married into the English family and stayed local. The English seem to have been THE FAMILY before the Cecil's. They were in the area about 20 years before Charles shows up. The other daughter was Elizabeth (Betty) , and she married a Wathen and moved to Illinois. Years later it causes Ann to become "Waddie" when she was growing up.
A Betty Wathen descendant maybe three generations later, again named Betty Wathen was the first person to tell me the story of Charles Cecil and Rebecca. I believe she too thought Rebecca's husband left her the land. I had a long talk with Betty at Aunt Sue's funeral. She had a daughter who said she was doing research to maybe write a novel based upon Charles and Rebecca. Like to see that.
It is interesting that every once in a while I used to wonder whether or not I could be or more likely could have been a writer. I always thought that if I did, the title of my first book would be “Prideful Heritage”, and it would do a fictional or maybe factual trace of my family tree from Charles to me and my family. Charles could well have been a great con man. I have heard he called himself Col. Charles Cecil. It was also rumored that he was or passed himself off to be from England. I think there was considerable resentment to some of the early families about how the Cecil’s seemed over whelm everything and everybody. They were also strong Catholics in a Southern Baptist area. Some say that is what moved the school to Howevalley. Too much St. Ambrose