Education was an early hallmark of Cane Hill. Cane Hill School was founded in 1834 and was the first formally organized school in Northwest Arkansas. It also had the first public library in the state. In 1850 it became Cane Hill Collegiate Institute and began granting two-year college degrees. In 1852 the Arkansas General Assembly granted the institution a charter and the name changed again to Cane Hill College. Cane Hill College became one of the earliest institutions in the state to grant four-year degrees.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861 the college closed. In 1864 three of four college buildings were burned by Jennison’s Jayhawkers. Cane Hill College reopened following the Civil War. In 1875, Cane Hill College absorbed students from the shuttered Clyde Female Seminary, making Arkansas’s first coeducational college.
In 1885 the last original college structure was burned, legend has it, by a moonshiner seeking revenge after he was ousted from town. The existing brick college building was built in 1886 in the Victorian Italianate style and classes resumed in 1887.
The college operated until 1891, when a lack of financial resources caused it’s closure. In 1919 the building reverted back to primary education until the 1950s when Cane Hill consolidated with the Lincoln School District. The concrete block building (1940s) on the south lawn served as the lunchroom. The fountain in the front once sat in the middle of Hwy 45. The bell tower holds the original recast bell from a steamboat the Grapeshot, which sank in the Arkansas River in Van Buren. One of the first inhabitants of Cane Hill, John Rankin Pyeatte, brought the bell back for the school to use in the 1850s. There are also four rows of Black Walnut trees on the college grounds, which were planted by the first college president, F.R. Earle, in 1896.
The Cane Hill College Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. In 2017, Historic Cane HIll, Inc. undertook a full rehabilitation, restoring key character-defining features, including original window openings and the second floor auditorium.