Fall Celebration & Homecoming
Eleutherian College plans
daylong events for homecoming
Various speakers scheduled to appear
(September 2015) – Those of us who call Jefferson County, Ind., “home” live in a community that is rich in well-documented history, a lot of proud history.
A great example can be found just 11 miles northwest of Madison in Lancaster, once known as Lancaster Village or Township in the 1800s, is a symbol of tolerance and freedom, a historical jewel not too many people may know about. It was the first college in the Northwest Territory and second college in the United States to enroll students regardless of race or gender. In fact, printed right on the first page of the newly rediscovered Eleutherian College Academic Catalogue are the words, “Have we not all one Father? – Bible.”
Photo by Nina Alcorn
Several speakers are scheduled during the upcoming Fall Celebration and Homecoming at Eleutherian College.
The Historic Eleutherian College Inc. was established in 1994 by a group of people dedicated to preserving, researching and spreading the history of the college. A history of acceptance and tolerance, as well as unbelievable bravery to right a wrong, in the face of terrible racism and bigotry. According to the website, their mission is “to maintain and restore the college building and educate the public about its historical significance.”
• Directions, tours by appointment and additional information can be found at: www.EleutherianCollege.org or by calling (812) 866-7291. College information is also on Facebook.
Board members say they are excited about the future of the Eleutherian College and will forever be grateful to the ladies who acquired the property. Jae Breitweiser and Dottie Reindollar bought the building at auction in 1991.
“As the Board of Directors, we are indebted to Jae Breitweiser in an incalculable way. We are thrilled and want to honor her. The debt of gratitude to her and Dottie is immeasurable,” said Camille Fife, Board Secretary. What also haunts them is what might have happened had Breitweiser and Reindollar not been there that day.
“What was supposed to happen, the lead bidder was supposedly either going to tear it down to use the stone for development projects or to take a wall out and use it for a garage,” said Board President David Harden. That did not happen, and the history of the place was preserved. The only running joke from the story is the reactions they must have gotten from their husbands as they went home to announce they had purchased the college.
True to their mission, the organization will be playing host to a Fall Celebration and Homecoming on Sept. 19, starting at 10 a.m. There will be five speakers discussing various topics related to the history, continued investigation and research as well as restoration and renovation. The final performance will begin at 6:30 pm. The college is located at 6927 W. State Rd. 250, Lancaster.
Nick Ellis, Project Manager for Restoration, will give an update on the restoration of the building, returning things such as the window frames, floor and baseboards to their original locations, as well as the renovations. The plans include adding some electrical for lighting to display exhibits, for example.
The Board of Directors recently acquired a Jeffers Grant. Along with the grant and other donations, they have raised more than $90,000, which has allowed them to complete this phase of their work.
Dr. Mark Furnish will highlight his findings on both abolitionist and anti-slavery families in Jefferson County, as well as his rediscovery of the Academic Catalogue. Through a conversation with a colleague from New York City, it was discovered that the catalogue was among the collection of the New York City Historic Society. The Historic Society was happy to allow the Board to use the catalogue as long as it was not used for financial gain. In 1857, the Academic Catalog was used to attract donors as well as students to the school. The school boasted 66 gentlemen students, 46 lady students, five faculty members, including two female faculty members, none of which are identified by race.
Furnish will also be speaking about his research on the abolitionists, those against slavery, who did not feel all races were equal, but disagreed with slavery, by contrast anti-slavery activists believed all races to be equal. Both groups were present in Jefferson County and were involved with the Underground Railroad. It has been discovered that no matter which path a runaway slave, or “freedom seeker,” as the organization likes to refer to them, took whether it be Hanover or Madison, they found their way to the Eleutherian College.
Many of the early settlers of the Lancaster Village were Baptists from New England. In the 1830s, the family of Dr. Samuel Tibbits moved to the area and began assisting freedom seekers and many Conductors of the Underground Railroad, including John Carter, a leader among the African American community in Madison. Carter was an early board member of the college and will be profiled by Jan Vetrhus during the Fall Celebration.
The Eleutherian Institute, later renamed the Eleutherian College, was started in 1848 after the Neil’s Creek Antislavery Baptist Church congregation heard a sermon given by a visiting Baptist minister named Rev. Thomas Craven. He was an anti-slavery activist, who spoke of his dream of a college, much like the one in Oberlin, Ohio, that did not discriminate based on race or gender. The congregation accepted his ideas, and moved forward with the idea. Rev. Craven soon relocated to the area, purchased and donated land to be used for the school. The two-story building was constructed from 1848-1850, partially by some of the students attending. The college grew, and there was an additional three-story building and chapel erected to support the growing student body in 1853.
There probably were other buildings, but they cannot be sure. Dr. Sean O’Neill, Classics Professor at Hanover College, will give a description of the archeological studies that have gone on at the college from 2013 to 2015. In addition to the update, there will be a demonstration
Last on the agenda will be the history of the Spirituals, Christian songs created by African American freedom seekers. This presentation will be made by Dr. Alicestyne Turley, Director of the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, followed by a performance of the Spirituals by the Black Music Ensemble of Berea College. Those who attend are encouraged to come, bring picnic food and enjoy the performance.
“This is the first time this music has been sung out there, probably since the mid 1800s,” said Harden. They anticipate a very moving and spiritual experience.
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