1500 North Lombardy Street
Architect, John H. Coxhead
VCU and UR might get more attention, but Virginia Union has itself a fine looking-campus.
The original complex of Virginia Union University is an outstanding example of a late-Victorian collegiate grouping. The solid, Romanesque Revival structures, dramatically clustered along a shallow rise, follow the fashion of campus planning established after the Civil War by architects of the land grant colleges. The dormitories, classroom buildings, chapel, president’s house, and power plant, each with its own picturesque massing and lively silhouette, were all designed by the Washington architect John H. Coxhead.
The university was established in 1896 through the merger of Richmond Theological Seminary and Wayland Seminary of Washington, D. C., and funds for the new physical plant were provided by Northern philanthropists. This union of two Baptist institutions represented the culmination of efforts by individuals and organizations to provide higher education for freed blacks after the Civil War. Further mergers have transformed the school into an important urban university which has consistently graduated outstanding alumni, many of whom hold positions of leadership in the city, state, and nation. The original complex thus stands as a fitting tribute to perseverance and excellence in the field of black higher education.
Following the termination of hostilities in 1865, there began the difficult task of providing facilities and teachers for educating newly freed slaves. Because of an antebellum state law that forbade the education of slaves, the vast majority of newly freed blacks were almost totally illiterate. Often it was only the black ministers who knew the rudiments of reading and writing. The initial responsibility for providing some education to blacks fell to these ministers who, with support from philanthropic Northerners, launched teaching efforts, initially on a small scale.
Complementing these efforts were those of the Baptist Home Mission Society, active in both Richmond and Washington. The society founded the schools which later became the Richmond Theological Seminary and the Wayland Seminary in Washington, D. C. Dr. Nathaniel Colver, a Boston abolitionist, headed the educational effort in Richmond and was assisted by a local Baptist minister, Dr. Robert Ryland.
The search for a school building proved to be a difficult one, but Dr. Colver finally purchased a group of structures known as Lumpkin’s Jail from the wife of Robert Lumpkin. This complex of brick buildings, located in Shockoe Valley, had previously served as a slave pen with accompanying buildings to house slave traders. At the same time, the Baptist Home Mission Society was establishing a seminary in Washington in a Baptist church on 19th Street that became Wayland Seminary. Although the bulk of the financing for these seminaries came from the Mission Society, the schools remained non-sectarian, a status which continues today.
The school’s oldest buildings include an academic and residential.complex consisting of Coburn, Huntley, Martin E. Gray, Kingsley, Pickford buildings, the Old President’s Residence and the industrial building and power plant. All seven structures were built between 1899 and 1901 and are constructed of rough-faced gray granite ashlar. The stonework is of exceptional quality and is in excellent condition. The general architectural style employed for the buildings is a simplified version of Richardsonian Romanesque Revival.
While VUU may not get the same props as its larger university counterparts, it speaks with a louder voice than you might think.
- Douglas Wilder (Governor of Virginia, Class of 1951)
- Henry L. Marsh (Virginia Senate, Class of 1956)
- Delores McQuinn (Virginia House of Delegates, Class of 1976)
- Dwight Clinton Jones (Mayor of Richmond, Class of 1967)
- Mamye BaCote (Virginia House of Delegates, Class of 1961)
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