Dramatically sited at the northern end of Wilmington Street, Peace College's Main Building is an imposing Greek Revival building, architecturally lightened by Italianate accents. Begun c.1859, the four-story brick edifice is one of the largest antebellum buildings surviving in Raleigh. The facade is dominated by a massive central portico supported by four masonry Doric columns. A sawnwork balustrade runs between the columns on each of the porch's three upper levels. At the rear is a central projecting wing, creating a T-shaped composition.
The building's significance is magnified by its historical association with the Reconstruction Era Freedmen's Bureau and the growth of higher education in the capital city. Peace Institute was incorporated in 1858 as a Presbyterian-affiliated school for young women. Its namesake was local merchant William Peace, who donated the land and $10,000 for construction of a building. When the Civil War began, the partially completed building was pressed into service as a hospital. In 1865, the building became the district headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau, the government body set up to help newly freed African Americans find education and employment.
The Freedmen's Bureau use of the building ended in 1869, and the building underwent extensive renovations, including the addition of the sawnwork trim. However, its use as a school was not entirely assured until 1872, when a joint-stock company made up mainly of members of the Presbyterian Church funded a curriculum of "three courses of instruction: Primary, Preparatory and Collegiate." Growth was slow, but by 1882 there were more than 200 students enrolled. In 1914, Peace became the first accredited junior college in the South; until 1968, it also offered a four-year high school program. In 1995, the curriculum moved to baccalaureate status. Throughout the years, the Main Building has retained its multi-purpose function, housing classrooms, offices and social rooms. New buildings on campus echo the Main Building's architectural forms, but in location and scale defer to the original building's visual dominance. Peace College is a designated Raleigh Historic Landmark.
The Peace College Main Building is located just north of downtown at 15 E. Peace St. It is open during the college's regular operating hours and for special college functions. For information, contact the college at 919-508-2000 or through their website.
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