Shewsbury-Windle House; 1st Lanier House; Old railing detail.
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Madison, Indiana

Eleutherian College Classroom and Chapel Building

Eleutherian College Classroom and Chapel Building

Eleutherian College Classroom and Chapel Building
National Park Service

Perched atop “College Hill” in rural Lancaster, Indiana, Eleutherian College was created as one of the first desegregated educational institutions in America. In 1848, Oxford, Ohio, minister Reverend Thomas Cravens started the Eleutherian Institute in Lancaster after being impressed with local abolitionists’ enthusiasm during an 1846 visit. The name “Eleutherian” stems from the Greek word “Eleutheros” which means “freedom and equality."

The classes initially met in local meeting halls before construction of the limestone building on College Hill. After moving into its permanent home, the Institute changed its name to Eleutherian College and became the first Indiana school to offer post-secondary instruction to African Americans. Soon Eleutherian College built men’s and women’s dormitories, and annual enrollment reached between 70 and 150 students from 1855 to 1861. During the 1860s and 1870s, when public schools for free blacks became more common, Eleutherian College’s enrollment dipped.

Constructed between 1854 and 1856, the surviving Greek Revival-style college building is a three-story stone building designed on a rectangular plan, with a square bell tower above the entrance. Its gable-front roof creates a triangular wood pediment above the school’s third floor windows. Finished limestone windowsills, lintels, and corner quoins offer a contrast to the building’s rough-hewn coursed stone walls. The north-facing façade features three bays with two wood doors with transoms around a central window.

The building’s interior reflects its original function as a school and chapel. A small entryway situated inside the exterior doors leads to a two-story high chapel with double-height windows running the remainder of the building’s length. Two classrooms are located above the entryway on the second story, but the bulk of instruction space, five more rooms, is on the third floor.

Lancaster Township purchased the building in 1888 and used it as a public school until 1938. Restoration projects in the 1960s and during the 2000s have returned the building to its historic appearance.

Historic Eleutherian College, Inc now owns the Eleutherian College Classroom and Chapel Building. It was designated a National Historic Landmark on February 18, 1997.

Plan your visit

Eleutherian College, a National Historic Landmark and part of the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom is located at 6927 W. State Rd. 250, Lancaster, IN, 10 miles northwest of downtown Madison. Click here for the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. To reach Eleutherian College, take IN-7 north to SR 250. Head east on SR 250 2.5 miles. The college is situated off the road in the middle of a field. It is open to the public by appointment only. To set up a tour, call 812-866-7291.

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