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Sullins College was founded about 1868 and named for David Sullins, a Methodist minister. It was both a high school for girls and later also a junior college, operated by the Methodist Church. Its first location was in downtown Bristol, Virginia, United States. The entire building burned during Christmas vacation in late December 1915, and the Methodist Church decided not to rebuild.
Some of the citizens of Bristol prevailed upon William E. Martin, a Methodist pastor in Alabama who had at an earlier time been president of Sullins, to return to Bristol and re-open the school. This he did and it was rebuilt in an entirely new location in a residential area of Bristol, occupying an eminence overlooking the entire city. No longer a Methodist institution, Martin operated it as a proprietary women's school controlled by his family. It attracted a clientele from among wealthy families throughout the Southeast looking for a junior college with the prestige of being in Virginia.
Sometimes in the thirties, Martin also opened a subsidiary institution, Arlington Hall, in the Virginia outskirts of Washington, D.C. During World War II, Arlington Hall was closed, and the facilities came under the control of the government, which operated it as an American Bletchley Park—a super secret facility where enemy radio messages were carefully decoded. The facility is still a government enterprise.
Sullins College in Bristol remained under the control of the Martin family until sometime in the 1960s, when they passed it to an independent board of trustees. The college appeared to be doing fine for a while, and additional buildings were constructed. But by the 1970s, women’s colleges were no longer as fashionable as they had once been, and as a two-year college, Sullins, was particularly vulnerable to changing times. The junior college celebrated its Centennial in 1970. Following the graduation of the 1976 class, Sullins College closed, and the property passed to the United Coal Company, now known simply as the United Company, an investment firm. King College, in Bristol, Tennessee, is the custodian of the Sullins College records and maintains an active relationship with alumnae of the institution
In 1976, a local Episcopal day school began using the campus' Martin Hall after outgrowing its former location and remained there until moving to its current location in Virginia in 1999. This day school took the name of Sullins Academy at that time, moving towards a less sectarian nature, and has kept it since.