Isham Lafayette Burrow was born in 1833 in Carroll County, Tenn. After attending
Bethel Seminary, a Cumberland Presbyterian school in McLemoresville, Tenn., Burrow
received an A.B. degree from Andrew College in Trenton, Tenn., in 1858. He had received
his license to preach one year earlier and began his career as minister-educator.
After several years working in Tennessee, Burrow traveled to Lewisburg, Arkansas.
He was so taken with the area that he moved his family to Arkansas in 1869 and "transferred
in" to the Arkansas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, where he
became the pastor of the local church. Also during this period, Burrow pursued his
commitment to frontier education. He opened a "seminary" in 1871, and the resulting
institution later served as the high school of the Morrilton District of the Arkansas
Conference of the Methodist Church.
In 1873, Burrow became the local pastor at Clarksville in the Ozark hills of
Johnson County, and the following year the Conference appointed him the principal
of the Clarksville District high school, a post which he held in addition to his
pastorate. During these years the minister-educator began formulating plans to found
a school of his own.
Shaped by frontier individualism, Burrow set out to build a Christian institution
of higher learning in western Arkansas virtually by himself. As the site of his
new school, Burrow selected a location 25 miles west of Clarksville and five miles
east of Ozark in the small community of Altus. In 1875, he acquired 320 acres of
land and began to build Central Institute which was the foundation of the modern
day Hendrix College. He served as president of the college until 1887 and continued
to be involved with the institution as its financial agent until 1889.