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A New Beginning

Eleutherian College kicks off
revitalization campaign

Historic site played
important role during Civil War

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(June 2012) – Historic Eleutherian Inc. is undergoing a changing of the guard as revitalization plans are under way to bring the historic site in Lancaster, Ind., back to area prominence.
Back in 1990, the site was purchased for restoration by Jae Breitweiser and Dottie Reindollar who served as co-directors for many years. Under their tenure, many repairs and improvements took place, and in 1997 the college was named a National Historic Landmark. However, in recent years, the group grew less active, even seeing board membership fall to only three members for a time.
Back in October, Brook Reindollar, son of the late Dottie Reindollar, began heading up the reorganization and revitalization of the board. “Things needed to be done to get this running” he said.

Eleutherian College

Photo courtesy of Larry DeBuhr

In 1997, the college was
named a National Historic
Landmark. Today, a board of
directors works on revitalization
efforts to preserve the
important structure.

Reindollar now serves as president of an interim board of 12 members that has been busy developing a two-year operating plan for renewing Eleutherian College. Part of the work being done includes redesigning the website, recruiting new board members and new volunteers, and putting together a basic operating budget. Already, the group has begun to see success in fundraising efforts, having recently received a grant from the National Historic Trust for board development. Earlier in the year, the organization was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Jefferson County Board of Tourism to be used toward the maintenance and upkeep necessary for the preservation of the historic structure. The VisitMadison Inc. board has also provided funding assistance.
Board Vice-President Dr. Larry DeBuhr explains that “many think Eleuterian College has disappeared. We need to get people back out there again.”
DeBuhr, executive director at the Rivers Institute at Hanover College, believes that this group will be able to “move ahead to rebuild an organization that was very active in getting things done.”
The Eleutherian College has a storied background of education and activism. The Eleutherian Institute was founded in 1848 by a group of abolitionists, and the two-story limestone building that housed the college was built by 1854. The mission of the college was devoted to the education of students of all races and genders.
The college saw men and women, black and white studying together and also served as an important stop for many escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad.
“This was a way stop where they could receive some education before continuing on their way,” explains Camille Fife, Preservation Planner for the city of Madison. By learning to read and write, the escaping slaves would be better positioned to pass as free blacks.
The board is working on ways for the site to expand its impact as a community and educational resource. Fife explains that part of the problem in studying the history of the Underground Railroad is that very few contemporary documents are available due to the danger of being associated with the movement. Most of the writings are from recollections of those involved years after the fact.
The board expects that the physical site will help build additional opportunities for scholarship, and there are hopes for archaeological work to take place on the grounds. Currently, tours of the site are by appointment only. But plans are being made to have a scheduled series of tours this summer.
DeBuhr said he hopes that Hanover College students will get involved in projects related to the historic site and envisions that internships may be available for students in the future.

Eleutherian Window

Photo courtesy of Larry DeBuhr

The Eleutherian
Institute was
founded in 1848
by abolitionists
dedicated to the
education of all
students, regardless
of race and gender.

“One of the messages we have to get out is that Eleutherian College is not a local attraction – it’s a regional and national attraction,” he says, while stressing the need for continued support and study of the area.
In addition to need to preserve the site for historical study, those who love the college also speak of the power of the building to transport visitors to another time and get a real sense of what life was like for those escaping or fighting slavery. Standing high on a hill in Lancaster, the towering building is an inspiring sight.
Fife says, “I’ve always imagined what that must have been like for the escaping slaves to be let out and to see that building in the moonlight. It is such a symbol.”
Eleutherian board members are seeking volunteers to serve in a wide range of capacities and looking forward to welcoming new faces. They are eager to bring in those with talents ranging from historical costuming and tour directing to simply welcoming guests at the Visitors’ Center or helping out with simple grounds keeping. Fife stresses that Eleutherian College is “alive and well, welcoming to people who love the story.”

• Historic Eleutherian College Inc. can be found on Facebook or call (812) 273-9434 for volunteer and information.

Back to June 2012 Articles.

 

 

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