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Making progress

Historic Eleutherian College
finishes first phase of restoration

New Visitors Center is now open

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

LANCASTER, Ind. (October 2007) – The first phase of the restoration project on Historic Eleutherian College, located Hwy. 250 in Lancaster, Ind., is nearly completed. This phase, which included stabilization of the entire structure, took nearly a year and was funded by several grants, including one from the National Parks Service’s “Save Americas Treasures” and federal Community Development Block Grant money given to Indiana for distribution.

Hoyt and Underground Railroad Visitors Center

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Officials have completed some
restoration work on the Hoyt
and Underground Railroad Visitors
Center in Lancaster, Ind., and also
added displays about the Hoyt
family and their participation in
the Underground Railroad.

“We are thrilled with the work that has been done up to this point,” said Jae Breitweiser, executive director of Historic Eleutherian College Inc. “But there is much more work to be done, and more funding to be found to complete the entire restoration of this important historic site.”
Historic Eleutherian College is listed in the Indiana and National Register of Historic Places, is a National Historic Landmark, is listed in the Save America’s Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is a Civil War Site. The college and the surrounding village of Lancaster played prominent roles in the anti-slavery Underground Railroad movement.
“We received National Historic Landmark status because something significant happened here that changed the nation,” said Breitweiser.
The historic site was the first college in Indiana and one of the first in pre-Civil War America to admit students regardless of race or gender. Because of a lack of funding for years, the structure was in desperate need of assistance due to the prolonged effects of neglect and vandalism. The first phase of work has turned things around for the college.
“I feel we got to this just in time before the building was lost possibly forever,” said Breitweiser.
During this first phase of restoration, the exterior was the main focus. Harmon & Harmon Construction Co, based in North Vernon, Ind., stabilized the entire structure, cleaned the stone and redid the mortar. The chimneys were refurbished using brick donated from the Reindollar family home in Madison that was destroyed by fire. The interior floors were stabilized as well, and access to the Bell Tower was reopened.
The company also used wood from the original floor joists to create window casings. Period windows were found as replacements and the doors were reconstructed using designs in keeping with the era in which the college was built.
“Everything was done according to National Park Service standards for Historic Landmarks,” said Breitweiser.
Part of those standards include making certain that a specific percentage of original material be used in the restoration. She said the yellow poplar “Old Growth” timbers used in the 1820s for the original floor joists had rotted on each end and were not safe to continue using as flooring. Instead, the huge beams were turned into window sills and casings, which “worked perfectly with the NPS regulations.”
There was some interior work done as well during this phase of reconstruction. David Cart of Madison, Ind., was responsible for reconditioning the flooring, replacing floor joists and putting in the sub-floor. The original flooring was removed and put in safe storage until more work on the interior is completed.
Cart was the director of the Lanier Mansion and oversaw the restoration of that historic structure during the period in which preservationists were trying to secure National Historic Landmark status for the structure.
“I watched the actual contractors work, and I thought it looked fun to actually physically do the work,” said Cart. “I’ve now been actively working as a historic restorer for about 10 years now, and I love my work.”
Cart’s crew, which consisted mainly of his family, were on a deadline of two months to complete their section of work. He was excited about his role in the historic reconstruction and hopes to bid on more work when the second phase begins.
He has done preservation and restoration projects with Historic Madison, Pearl Park and is especially proud of his work on the historic Deputy United Methodist Church. “We restored it to its original 1884 grandeur, and it looks simply beautiful,” he said.
In addition to the work completed on Eleutherian College, the artifacts and displays for the college’s Hoyt & Underground Railroad Visitors Center were completed. Lyman Hoyt was responsible for building up Lancaster into the thriving community that it was. He was also a major Underground Railroad conductor in the Lancaster area.
Breitweiser said the second phase of restoration for Historic Eleutherian College will begin as soon as more financial assistance is procured.

• For more information about Historic Eleutherian College, visit www.eleutherian.us.

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