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History and education in those Highland County hills of yore, Part 14       

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Steve Roush

By Steve Roush
HCP columnist

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve discussed how the Rev. Joseph McDowell Mathews, a pioneer of Highland County education, left Hillsboro in late 1860 and moved to Kentucky. 

Specifically, the Mathews family relocated to Nicholasville, Ky., where the Rev. Mathews took charge of the Jessamine Female College. The good Reverend would have been in his upper 50s at the time, while his young children would have been about 4 and 5.  

I’ve moved several times in my lifetime, and I’m sure you have, as well. If you’re like me, moving is no fun. At all. There was one point nearly two decades ago where I could honestly say I lived in three different states in less than a year. Never again.  

I’ve vaguely heard of Nicholasville, Ky. Can you guess how far Nicholasville is from Hillsboro, Ohio? According to MapQuest, it’s about 130 miles away, and we can get there in about 2 and a half hours depending on the route and traffic. 

I bet it took a heck of a lot longer to travel that far in 1860, unless one was able to catch a train as a means of transportation. Perhaps.  

As it turned out, mostly due to the Civil War, the Rev. Joseph McDowell Mathews’ time at the Jessamine Female College didn’t go as planned, so the family moved back to Hillsboro in 1863. 

From there, the Rev. Mathews would remain a resident of Hillsboro for the duration of his life, and we discussed how his son, Joseph McDowell Mathews Jr., sadly passed away at the age of 19 after graduating from Hillsboro and was attending Oberlin College. 

Junior’s sister, Sarah E. “Sallie” Mathews, however, ended up making Nicholasville her home. She died in the summer of 1907 at the age of 50 or 51, and the following summarized obituary was posted at the time of her death: 

“The sudden call of the death angel came to the home of Mr. James T. Mathews, in the Hanly neighborhood, Friday morning, Aug. 9, 1907, and took, from his side, the wife of his youth. Mrs. Sallie E. Mathews was the daughter of the late Rev. Joseph McDowell Mathews, a prominent educator of the Methodist church, who was principal of Jessamine Institute just before the Civil War, and later, was located at Hillsboro, Ohio, as president of the Hillsboro Female College. Here she was educated and after leaving school came to Jessamine County to visit her relatives, met her cousin, and was married to him. She had no children, but the husband and a large circle of relatives grieve over her passing into the ‘great beyond.’ The pall bearers were her nephews, Messrs. Isaac Bourne, Joseph Edwards, William Mathews, Scott Mathews, Roy Land and Willie Mathews, and interment took place at Maple Grove Cemetery. She was a sister-in-law of Dr. William H. Mathews II and J. S. Mathews of Nicholasville, Caleb M (McDowell) Mathews of Lexington, Mrs. Margaret P Land, Richland, and Mrs. Buckner Bryant, of Jessamine County.” 

Sallie’s husband, James Trimble Mathews, was the son of William Harvey Mathews, who was the brother of the Rev. Joseph McDowell Mathews. So, to answer what you are probably wondering … yes, in addition to being a sister-in-law to those listed in the obituary, she was also their first cousin.  

Now, the obit gives away that Sallie Mathews outlived her father, but he would have been around 103 years old at the time of her death. On that note, let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next time.

Steve Roush is chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a board member of the Highland District Hospital Foundation, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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