W. R. “Sawney” Webb, Confederate veteran and graduate of the University of North Carolina, arrived in Tennessee in 1870 to found a classical school modeled on Bingham’s, his former school at Oaks, North Carolina, and similar Virginia schools. Three years later, he was joined by his brother, John M. Webb, considered to be one of the best scholars to graduate from UNC. The two brothers made an excellent team, combining the strong-minded Sawney’s ability to instill high moral and religious values in his students with the quieter John’s skill as a classroom teacher. In 1886 the Webbs moved their school from Culleoka, Tennessee, to its present site in Bell Buckle.
The Webb School quickly achieved a notable scholastic reputation. In 1877 Vanderbilt University Chancellor Landon Garland, discussing the poor quality of students applying to Vanderbilt, singled out students from Webb School as setting the standard of scholarship to which others should aspire. In 1946, reflecting on the early years of Vanderbilt, Professor Edward Mims observed that the constant flow of Webb students contributed significantly to the success of the university. Likewise, Methodist Bishop Holland McTyeire praised Webb School, saying, “I know not its superior; its equal would be hard to find.”
W. R. Webb Jr. joined the Webb School faculty in 1897 after obtaining his degree from UNC and teaching English there. In 1908 “Son Will” was elevated to coprincipal with his father and uncle. After the deaths of John Webb in 1916 and Sawney Webb in 1926, W. R. Webb Jr. continued as Headmaster until he retired in 1952.
Webb School has experienced a number of changes in its 125-year history. Established as a school for boys, Webb began admitting female boarding students in 1973. During the tenure of Headmaster Jackson E. Heffner from 1977 to 1989, the school’s physical plant was modernized, two girls’ dormitories were built, and the Austin Davis-Bryant Woosley Computer/Science Building was constructed. The success of a recent capital campaign enabled the school to construct the William Bond Library and a new Student Center. Under the leadership of Headmaster A. Jon Frere and an outstanding faculty, the school serves 265 students in grades seven through twelve.
Glenn N. Holliman, “The Webb School Junior Room, The Symbol of a School,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 36 (1977): 287-304; Laurence McMillin, The Schoolmaster: Sawney Webb and the Bell Buckle Story (1971)