Eleutherian College was one of the first Indiana schools to admit students without regards to race or gender. Eleutherian was also the first school in Indiana to offer advanced educational opportunities to African-American students. The three-story Classroom and Chapel Building was constructed from 1854-1856 and is one of two surviving buildings associated with the college. A dormitory building also survives near the Chapel building but is now a private residence.
The construction of the Classroom and Chapel Building was the culmination of local abolitionists’ efforts to visibly denounce slavery and the fruition of Reverend Thomas Craven’s dream to establish an educational institution open to both races. In 1846, the visiting Craven gave a sermon that inspired local abolitionists, who convinced the minister to locate the institution near their town. Given their beliefs, it is not a surprise that many of these same families were active participants in the Underground Railroad. Nearby Lancaster, IN was a major stop on the Underground Railroad between Madison and Indianapolis.
The Eleutherian Institute opened in 1848 with fifteen students as well as Craven’s son John as an instructor. At this time, only secondary classes were taught. Named from the Greek word “Eleutheros” (meaning “freedom and equality”), the school embodied its founders’ anti-slavery sentiments. The school began offering college-level courses in 1854, and, thus, its name changed to Eleutherian College.
Eleutherian College continued to operate as a private, coeducational school until the mid-1880s. It was purchased by Lancaster Township in 1888 and utilized as a public school building until 1938. The college has undergone restoration efforts since the 1960s. The structure is now owned by Historic Eleutherian College, Inc. and houses a museum. It was listed on the National Register in 1993, is a National Historic Landmarks, and listed as a Network to Freedom Site by the National Park Service.