A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Memorial Arch at Lincoln University was dedicated in 1921 during a visit by U.S. President Warren G. Harding. From Catalogue of Lincoln University, 1921-1922

The Memorial Arch at Lincoln University was dedicated in 1921 during a visit by U.S. President Warren G. Harding.
From Catalogue of Lincoln University, 1921-1922

Pennsylvania has the distinction of hosting the nation’s first two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Cheyney and Lincoln universities. Both schools were established to provide people of African descent with higher education opportunities that were profoundly lacking in the 19th century. Cheyney, founded in 1837, initially provided training in trades and agriculture and the skills necessary to teach those subjects. Lincoln was founded in 1854 with a goal of providing scientific, classical and theological education and is considered the first degree-granting HBCU.

Lincoln University was originally established as Ashmun Institute on a former farm at the edge of Hinsonville, a hamlet in southern Chester County that was settled by free Black Americans by the 1820s. As the institute expanded, it absorbed much of the land in and around Hinsonville, acquiring acreage for new development and repurposing existing buildings. The campus largely surrounds the Hosanna African Union Methodist Protestant Church (founded in 1843), which served as a significant community center in Hinsonville and, at only 6 miles from the Maryland state line, is believed to have had a role in the operation of the Underground Railroad.

Ashmun originally focused on training men for the ministry or to serve as missionaries in Africa. In addition to theological degrees, the institute offered a liberal arts education. In 1866 the school was renamed to honor the recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, and the range of courses and degrees offered continued to expand through the next decades, along with enrollment.

 

Students walk from the recently completed Wright Hall, 1965. From The Lion (Lincoln University yearbook), 1965

Students walk from the recently completed Wright Hall, 1965.
From The Lion (Lincoln University yearbook), 1965

With its emphasis on academics instead of industrial arts or agriculture, Lincoln served as a model for many of the original 107 HBCUs established primarily in southern states after the Civil War in response to the legalized segregation that denied Black Americans access to both public and private institutions of higher education.

In the early 20th century, Lincoln proved to be a key resource for southern Black men who had moved north to Pennsylvania during the Great Migration and were still experiencing limited educational opportunities. Lincoln eventually granted degrees to women in 1953, and the female student population quickly grew to equal the number
of male students.

Amos Hall, completed in 1902, is one of the more distinctive designs in the core area of early residential and classroom buildings. Designed by William Plack (1844–1954) of Philadelphia, it reflects an ambitious period of new construction that created the look and feel of a typical college campus. Courtesy of Lincoln University

Amos Hall, completed in 1902, is one of the more distinctive designs in the core area of early residential and classroom buildings. Designed by William Plack (1844–1954) of Philadelphia, it reflects an ambitious period of new construction that created the look and feel of a typical college campus.
Courtesy of Lincoln University

Lincoln recruited students from Africa throughout its existence. One of the first three students to enroll, along with two Hinsonville residents, was from Liberia. White students were also eligible to enroll at Lincoln, and two were members of the first graduating class.

In the mid-20th century, under the leadership of Lincoln’s first Black president, Horace Mann Bond (1904–72), the school actively challenged Jim Crow laws, established one of the first African studies programs in the U.S., and championed the civil rights of its students and staff. The 1940s and ’50s saw repeated efforts by Lincoln’s students and faculty to challenge segregation in local businesses and schools. Lincoln’s staff, students and alumni continued to help shape the Civil Rights Movement through the 1960s and influenced the evolution of the Black Power and Black Arts movements into the 1970s. Lincoln’s numerous prominent alumni include poet Langston Hughes (1901–67) and U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall (1908–93).

A district containing many Lincoln University resources built between 1854 and the early 1970s was nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places for the school’s important association with the higher education of Black students, its influence in the Civil Rights Movement, and the campus’ largely intact collection of late-19th-century and early-20th-century architecture.

 

Recent listings in the National Register of Historic Places include Bower Homestead Farm, Blain, Perry County; Germantown Jewish Centre, Philadelphia; Kistler Residence, Allentown, Lehigh County; Tioga Mills, Philadelphia; and U.S. Mint Building at Philadelphia.

 

April E. Frantz is a historic preservation specialist who reviews National Register nominations in the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.