Our Founder

A man and a mission

The journey was long and rocky, but here we serve.

The Buckhorn Children’s Center was founded in 1902 by Reverend Harvey S. Murdoch. Born in 1871, Reverend Murdoch graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and dedicated himself to the Presbyterian ministry. After traveling through parts of eastern Kentucky with the Society of Soul Winners (founded by E.O. Guerrant), Murdoch decided to leave his native Brooklyn to settle in the Appalachian town of Buckhorn, saying, “The need is greater there.”


Reverend Harvey S. Murdoch

A visionary, Murdoch focused on the immediate needs of the people and worked with them to build a church, a school, and an orphanage. Although they had little money, local people gave what they could, contributing logs and lumber from the surrounding forests, shingles, plentiful amounts of coal to heat the structures, nine acres of land, $140, and 125 days of work on the project.

“The world does move, and we must move with it.”

Reverend Harvey S. Murdoch

Murdoch’s friends and members of his home church in Brooklyn sent the other needed funds, and in the fall of 1903, Witherspoon College was officially opened.

Founded as a Christian “college” including only grades K-12, Witherspoon graduated thousands of Appalachian students from isolated communities in Perry and adjacent counties.

By the time of his death in 1935, Murdoch and his wife, Louise (Saunders), who was a native of the mountains, had helped to expand the campus to include a gym, farm, and the only hospital within a 100-mile radius. Presently, many of the old buildings are gone, but Buckhorn’s Log Cathedral – still an active Presbyterian church – continues to stand as a treasured local landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, regularly drawing tourists to the area.

In the 1950s, Witherspoon College was dissolved and a K-12 public school, Buckhorn School, moved into the community. Turning from a focus on education to that of caring for dependent children, the Buckhorn Children’s Center was born.

Today, Buckhorn Children & Family Services provides programs and support to at-risk children, adults and families from all across Kentucky.

With an expanded mission and a bold, new vision, Buckhorn Children & Family Services will continue to give hope to thousands of Kentucky kids, adults and families each year for generations to come.

To learn more about Buckhorn’s history, read Murdoch of Buckhorn by the Rev. Gordon B. Mahy, Nashville: The Parthenon Press, 1946.

If you would like to purchase your own copy of this historical review, please email sue.mcintosh@buckhorn.org or please call 606-398-7000 or 1-800-472-3678.