Berea is a 4th-class city in Madison County, Kentucky, in the United States. The town is best known for its art festivals, historic restaurants and buildings, and as the home to Berea College, a private, liberal arts college. The population was 13,561 at the 2010 census. It is one of the fastest-growing towns in Kentucky, having increased by 27.4% since 2000.
Due to the high number of arts and crafts produced, Berea is a tourist attraction. It hosts several crafts festivals throughout the year. Berea also hosts a Spoonbread Festival in mid-September, which features a cornmeal bread traditionally served with a wooden spoon.
In 1850 this area, called the Glade, was a community of scattered farms with a racetrack and citizens sympathetic to emancipation. In 1853, rich and politically ambitious Cassius Marcellus Clay gave Reverend John Gregg Fee a free tract of land in the Glade. With local supporters and other abolitionist missionaries from the American Missionary Association, Fee established two churches (First Christian Church and Union Church), a tiny village, and Berea College. Fee named Berea after a biblical town (today Veria) where the people “received the Word with all readiness of mind.”
Founded in 1855, Berea College was the only integrated and coeducational college in the South for nearly forty years. Fee modeled it on Oberlin College in Ohio, and hoped it would become an academic beacon of the North. Pro-slavery supporters expelled Fee and his followers from Berea in 1859, in the aftermath of John Brown's Raid. Fee had delivered an address at the Pilgrim Church in Brooklyn, New York, in the pulpit of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. Fee's remarks were reported in the New York Times, but were misrepresented in the Louisville Courier. Subsequently, everyone at the college was given ten days to leave the state. Most lived in Cincinnati or nearby northern towns for several years, returning for good after the war. The college's current president is Dr. Lyle Roelofs.
Starting in 1864, during the American Civil War, John G. Fee applied his energies to improving conditions for former slaves at Camp Nelson who had volunteered for the Union Army. He started with preaching but saw there were other pressing needs for them and their families. He helped arrange for construction of facilities to support them and their families at the camp, including housing, a hospital, church and school. After the war, African-American families came to Berea to take part in its education and interracial vision. For years it included instruction in preparatory grades for college.
In the 1890s, as part of a general heritage movement in the US, there was a growing national interest in the culture and traditions of Appalachia by writers, academics, missionaries and teachers. In addition to organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Daughters of the Confederacy (DOC) being founded, people had renewed interest in traditional crafts. It was in part a reaction to continuing urbanization and industrialization. Fascinated by the rich culture of Appalachia and dismayed by the region's isolation and poverty, donors to Berea College were enthusiastic about the quality of traditional coverlets brought by students in exchange for tuition.
College President William Frost (1893–1920) took many such coverlets with him on fund-raising trips North. The college had maintained connections with groups in Boston and other cities which had supported it from its earliest days. Frost, perceiving a national market for traditional crafts, established the first Berea College Fireside Industries. Frost encouraged craftspeople to move to Berea. The college built a loom house and hired a supervisor to train and maintain the quality of student work. The first supervisor of weaving was Jennie Lester Hill. She was succeeded in 1911 by Anna Ernberg, a Swedish weaver who at Berea taught several influential figures in the American Handweaving Revival.
Berea College attracts many regional, national, as well as international students. Students work on campus and receive free tuition. There are many criteria for getting into this college, including a modest family income, or an independent status as a student. It is also assumed that to get into Berea College, students must have at least a 3.8 unweighted High School GPA.
Berea has maintained its support for traditional arts and crafts. The recently built Kentucky Artisan Center, located at Exit 77 of Interstate 75 hosts a wide variety of works by Kentucky artisans. The Old Town and College Square areas have numerous galleries selling locally- and regionally-produced arts and crafts, as well as the studios of working artists. In 1922, David Carroll Churchill founded Churchill Weavers, which produced handwoven goods until spring 2007.