Like the tail wagging the dog Oneida (pronounced Oneeda, Indian fashion) is not the site of the famous Oneida Institute-the Oneida Institute is the site of the town of Oneida. For when Professor James Anderson Burns first proposed the institution he hoped would educate the children of the Clay County quarrelling families in an attempt to end the feuding, there was no town. The school was built on vision, determination, prayer, and generous gifts from wealthy northern citizens Burns charmed, and the town grew up around it.
In 1899, Burns, a former feuder himself, gathered some of the feuding residents of the area where the Red Bird River and Goose Creek meet to form the South Fork of the Kentucky River, and through force of will and a gift for oratory, convinced them to support a school he was going to build by sending him their children. The plan worked and the school got underway in 1900.
Among the many poor mountain children who were rescued from a future of poverty and violence was Charles Goins, an illiterate son of a single mother who went on to become an intellectual and to the presidency of the school. Goins’ nephew, Bert Combs, went to the school and went on from there to become a federal judge and the most progressive and well-respected governor in Kentucky history.
The little boarding school on the knoll overlooking its namesake town has played a large part in the history of Clay County, and has attracted students from around the world, surely a good thing for an area as isolated from the mainstream as the town of Oneida is.
Professor Burns creates a school to stop the feuds
Professor James Anderson Burns on the South Fork of the Kentucky River, near his beloved Oneida Baptist Institute.