Founded as Arkansas College by Arkansas Presbyterians, Lyon College opened its doors in September 1872. Originally located on the "downtown" block now occupied by the First Presbyterian Church of Batesville, the College remained under the guidance of the Long family for much of its first four decades—Rev. Isaac J. Long serving as president from the College's founding until his death in 1891 and his son, Eugene R. Long, serving two terms as president, 1891 to 1895 and 1897 to 1913. The College was co-educational from the beginning and remained dedicated to a classical course of study into the early 20th century.
The College expanded its physical plant after World War I by purchasing land in the East End Heights section of town, later known as the middle campus. The boom years of the 1920s faded quickly, however, as Arkansas sank into depression.
By the early 1930s, the very survival of the College was in jeopardy. Through the untiring efforts of a group of Batesville supporters and alumni and the generosity of Arkansas Presbyterian families, the College recovered in time to participate in the post-World War II G.I. boom that filled the nation's classrooms.
In 1952 Dr. Paul M. McCain succeeded Rev. John D. Spragins as president of the college. McCain's 17-year tenure as president witnessed steady progress including the move to the current campus in 1954; accreditation by the North Central Association (NCA) in 1959; physical expansion during the 1960s; and the geographic and ethnic diversification of the student body.
During the 1970s and 1980s, President Dan C. West oversaw the implementation of significant curricular reforms, the introduction of innovative fundraising techniques, and the development of the Scottish Heritage Program. A bequest of more than $14 million by Jean Brown of Hot Springs in 1981 launched a drive that paved the way for a significant expansion of scholarship support for students and endowed faculty positions. In early 1980, it also established the distinctive Nichols International Studies Program that supports the travel of students to sites around the globe.
In the 1990s President John V. Griffith led a strategic planning process that placed the College on its path to distinction as a national liberal arts institution. During his tenure, the College changed its curriculum, as well as building or expanding several academic buildings including:
In 1994, it adopted the name Lyon College to honor a family that had served it with distinction for more than a half-century. After a renewal of the decades-old discussion of changing the name, on the grounds that "Arkansas College" was too commonplace to express its distinction, the venerable school become Lyon College.
The College's growing regional and national reputation was exemplified by the regular recognition that came to its faculty. Since 1989, 14 members of the Lyon faculty have been recognized as Arkansas Professors of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Support and Advancement of Education. The College also created the state's only student-run Honor System in 1994.
Dr. Walter Roettger became the 16th president of Lyon in 1998 and continued the transformation that his predecessor had put into motion.
Under President Roettger, the curriculum continued to grow with the addition of new majors. The 60,854-square-foot Derby Center for Science and Mathematics was completed in December 2003; the Kelley Baseball Complex opened in January 2004.
In 2001, the College was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of America's "Best Liberal Arts Colleges."
In 2009, Dr. Donald Weatherman, a former Lyon professor of political philosophy, became the 17th president of Lyon. That fall, Lyon launched the Lyon Education and Adventure Program (LEAP), an outdoor program that takes advantage of the College’s location in the Ozark foothills and its close proximity to rivers, lakes, caves, and other natural attractions.
A fire in 2010 destroyed Edwards Commons, the student center and dining hall. The rebuilt Edwards Commons opened to students in the fall of 2012 and features a bistro, dining hall, student life offices, The Scot Shop, student mailboxes, and a game room.
In 2013, Lyon College reinstated football after a 62-year hiatus. Six-foot-three, 266-pound tight end Garett Denton of Batesville became the first Lyon College football player since 1951 when he signed a letter of intent Aug. 20, 2013. That year Lyon also added men's and women's wrestling to the roster of sports.
In 2017, Dr. W. Joseph King became the 18th president of Lyon, and he has undertaken several new initiatives, the most important of which is a major strategic planning effort led by an external consultant and engaging faculty, staff, trustees, students, and alumni.
Under King’s leadership, the ROTC military science concentration and the exercise science major and minor were approved by the faculty assembly and affirmed by the Board of Trustees in spring 2019. Dr. King was also instrumental in making Lyon the first pet-friendly campus in the state, participating in a “leash cutting” for a recently opened dog park named in honor of the late Dr. Mark Schram. During King’s tenure, the College established the state’s first program for gamers endorsed by The National Association of Collegiate Esports.
In spring 2020, Dr. King yet again marked Lyon College’s history. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to make the unprecedented decision to dismiss students from campus and transition to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester. Since then, the College hosted its first-ever virtual honors convocation on April 21, and it conducted virtual commencement ceremonies for the first time. Despite the College’s chaotic circumstances, the new data science degree was approved by the faculty assembly and the Board of Trustees in April 2020.
In 2002, Dr. Brooks Blevins, former Lyon College professor of history, authored the history of his alma mater. "Lyon College, 1872-2002: The Perseverance and Promise of an Arkansas College" was published in 2003 by the University of Arkansas Press.
Illustrated with wonderful photographs from every period in the school's history, this book also contains useful appendices: a timeline of key events and listings of all the presidents, deans, board chairs, and award winners.
Blevins' book is available at the Lyon College Bookstore.
Lyon is more than just a college. It's a community distinguished by its academic curriculum, unique honor and social systems, and award-winning professors.