The Story of the Bain Cane and the Julia Campbell Black Cane

Julia Campbell Black Historical Room
Julia Campbell Black Historical Room

John Bain, the founder of Historic Bain Academy, carried his special cane to church, to town, and to the school, where he delighted in hearing the students’ recitations and debates. The cane was a special gift from Philadelphia Church members, whose dream of a classical school had come true in 1889 when the elderly bachelor paid for the construction of a two-story brick school building. At that time “a gold-headed cane was a true mark of distinction,” states Russell Martin Kerr in The Presbyterian Gathering on Clear Creek. “It was proudly carried by its owner for seven years. Mr. Bain willed this gift to Philadelphia Church with the stipulation that it be carried by the oldest male member. And so, it has.” Gold bands under the head of the cane bear the names of the male custodians who have had the honor of carrying Bain’s walking stick. The first member to carry the cane after Bain’s death was J.M. Wilson, who cared for it until his death in 1900. It is currently in the possession of John Black, age 97, who became the 26th member to receive the cane in 2012.

Portrait of John Bain
Portrait of John Bain

Women members have also supported the church in various ways over the years. In her later years, Julia Campbell Black, an active church member, carried a special cane, handcrafted in 1976 from a wild cherry tree by S. Pernay Ross and given to her by Dolph C. Black, her son. “During this time she {Mrs. Black} was very much aware that the Bain Cane was carried by the oldest man in the church,” notes Kerr. “She felt that it was a real slight that there was no such recognition for the women. She requested that at her death the cane be given to the church to be carried by the oldest woman member.” When Mrs. Black died in 1979 at the age of 101, her cane was passed on to Dora Mullis Tweed. Today the Julia Black Cane is in the possession of Pauline Ross, age 101, who became the 12th recipient of the cane in 2008.

Julia Campbell Black portrait

John Bain and Julia Campbell Black were great influences in the church and the Mint Hill community. Historic Bain still stands as a testament to its founder, whose grave in the West Cemetery is marked by a special monument. A stained-glass window in the church is also a fitting memorial to John Bain. Mrs. Black, a dedicated Sunday school teacher and the church historian for half a century, was also honored by the church on several occasions. She turned the first spade of dirt at the groundbreaking for the current sanctuary in 1974 and two years later unlocked its doors and led the congregation into the church. When she died in 1979, the church named the old Sunday School Annex the Julia Campbell Black Historical Room. A Bain Academy graduate, she was also the founder and first president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association. (Mrs. Black is buried in the church’s South Cemetery.)

Because of their unselfish contributions to the church and the community, the names of John Bain and Julia Campbell Black live on today.