At Camp Nelson there is still a large colored settlement, the most moral, harmonious and hopefully in the State.
- Berea College, Ky.: An Interesting History, 1875
Following the closure of Camp Nelson in 1866, some former United States Colored Troops [USCT] soldiers and refugees wanted to remain at the Home for Colored Refugees and create a new community. They were opposed by the Freedmen’s Bureau, a governmental agency established to assist formerly enslaved people in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. Freedmen's Bureau agents were instructed to close the Home for Colored Refugees, and many local white Kentuckians also opposed the development of a free Black community. Reverend John G. Fee, founder of Berea College, and his wife, Matilda, purchased the Home property in 1868 and then resold the lots to the former soldiers and refugees, who developed the community of Ariel, today known as Hall.
By the 1870s, Ariel contained two churches and Ariel Academy, and a school for African Americans. The community was comprised of around 25 households, with most men listed in the 1870 census as farmhands and all the women listed as domestic laborers. One of the leaders of Ariel was the minister Reverend Gabriel Burdett, a formerly enslaved impressed laborer at Camp Nelson who later became a soldier in the 114th US Colored Infantry. In January 1878, the Louisville Courier-Journal discussed the transition from Camp Nelson to Ariel: “At the close of the war all the buildings were sold and nearly all removed. Those remaining are in close proximity, and are owned and occupied by ‘The Nation’s Wards’ – quite a village, and known as Ariel.”
Despite the hopes and aspirations of Ariel’s Black residents, their attempts to attain social, economic, and political equality was opposed by racial violence and oppression. In 1877, Burdett led a group of African Americans, including some Ariel community members, from Kentucky to Kansas as Exodusters and formed the community of Nicodemus. Despite the challenges, Ariel persisted. The community was once again featured in an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1895. The newspaper reported, “There is now upon the site of the camp a negro village of some three hundred souls…It is a rather thrifty village, and has one of the best private schools utilized for negroes in Kentucky.”
By 1900, Ariel had grown to include 40 households. Most men were still listed in census records as farm laborers and farmers; others worked at the nearby E.J. Curley Distillery. Besides the churches and academy, the community soon contained two stores and the Benevolent Hall, known for its music and from which the village took its present name. The community experienced job loss, especially after Prohibition in 1919, and the departure of many residents during the Great Depression and World War II. The Hall community continues to exist today. The residents include direct descendants of USCT soldiers and refugees who journeyed to Camp Nelson during the Civil War.
Fee Memorial Church
The African American congregation founded at Camp Nelson by John G. Fee in 1864 continued in the Ariel/Hall community. The congregation built the Fee Memorial Church in 1912 and used the church until it disbanded in the early 1990s. The church is the last surviving building associated with Ariel Academy, which operated in the community until 1924. The school was a central institution in the Ariel / Hall community and made it a center for Black education in postbellum Kentucky. The Fee Memorial Church is the only remaining public building left from the community’s peak of development in the 1910s. Besides the church, most of the historic buildings associated with the community of Ariel / Hall that existed at the time of its construction are demolished or significantly altered.
The Fee Memorial Church is part of Camp Nelson National Monument, but is currently closed to the public due to ongoing repairs and renovations. Visitors can explore the grounds of the church which includes an informational panel in front of the building.
Last updated: December 18, 2022
6614 Old Danville Road Loop 2
The phone is usually answered 7-days per week, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. Voice messages are checked regularly.