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2015 Exhibit

2015 Exhibit: Storer College
An American Phoenix, 1865-1955

Five photos of students in black and white are arranged over a muted green background in the center. Behind, blue and gold Storer College branded products  lays on a table.

One of the first institutions of higher learning open to African Americans south of the Mason-Dixon line, Storer College in Harpers Ferry, WV, played a key role in providing minority education from its origins as a mission school in 1865 to its close in 1955, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in public schools. Storer College also made significant contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. A particularly notable occasion in Storer history occurred in 1906 when the college hosted the second meeting (and the first on U.S. soil) of the Niagara Movement, a precursor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of what would become Storer College, the WVRHC's 2015 WV Day exhibit exhibit of photographs, artifacts, and documents chronicling the history of the college in the James Hornor Davis Family Galleries.

To access a PDF slideshow of the exhibit, please use the following:


Harpers Ferry: Crossroads of History and Geography

Blue and gold Storer College memorabilia against a gold cloth background.

Storer College was conceived not only at a pivotal time in American history but also in a pivotal place.  Located at the confluence of two major riverways (the Potomac and Shenandoah), Harpers Ferry was also the converging point of the National Road, the B&O Railroad and the C&O Canal.  It was, in fact, a gateway for points east and west, north and south. 

Harpers Ferry was also strategic for another reason -- it was home to a Federal Armory and Arsenal where as many as 100,000 weapons were stored at a given moment.

Abolitionist John Brown was cognizant of all of the above when he selected Harpers Ferry as the launching point of his proposed slave insurrection.  While he was not able “to end the war which ended slavery,” in Frederick Douglass’s words, “Brown began the war that ended slavery and made this a free Republic.” 

Brown’s Raid made Harpers Ferry ‘hallowed ground’ to those involved in the Civil Rights movement.  The establishment of a Mission School for freed slaves in 1865 reinforced the town’s aura in that respect, as did the first meeting on American soil of the Niagara Movement in 1906.

William Roberts Junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah, ca. 1809 

A watercolor paintings of a body of blue water between two round, rocky cliffs with greenery and trees

This early watercolor view of Harpers Ferry by a visiting British artist depicts a Federal Arsenal building.

United States 8th Regiment Order Book, Harpers Ferry, 1799-1800

Three yellowed documents with cursive writing displayed against a blue background
A worn, weathered book displayed against a blue background.

This order book belonged to the U.S. 8th Regiment, Harpers Ferry. The regiment was stationed at Harpers Ferry both to protect the Federal Armory and secure the strategic confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.  The order book pages displayed here contain an order announcing the death of General George Washington and proclaiming that:

“At daybreak, sixteen guns are to be fired in quick succession, and one gun at the distance of an half hour till sunset, during which the Procession of the troops to the place of Interment.” 

Edward Beyer, U.S. Armory in Harpers Ferry 

A lithograph of the armory in Harpers Ferry. It is a large white building next to a river, surrounded by rolling hills, trees and a blue sky

This lithograph from Beyer’s famous Album of Virginia (1858) provides a splendid view of the U.S. Armory on the eve of John Brown’s Raid.

George Harvey, Scene of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and Chesapeake & Ohio Canal at Harpers Ferry, ca. 1836

A scene of a tall cliff covered in trees against a blue sky. Below it is Harper's Ferry, a small but vibrant town with a railroad and a river

This colorful scene captures Harpers Ferry’s vibrance as a hub of rails, roads and rivers.

U.S. Harpers Ferry and Springfield Muskets and a Cavalry Saber

Two muskets and a cavalry sabre displayed against a blue background

Established by Congress in 1792, the Harpers Ferry Armory was producing muskets by 1799. The armory held as many as one hundred thousand weapons including some 15,000 muskets manufactured either in Harpers Ferry or in its sister armory in Springfield, Massachusetts at the time of Brown’s Raid. Included in this case is a Harpers Ferry Musket dated 1852 (top) and a Springfield Rifled Musket dated 1863 (bottom).

David Hunter Strother Sketch: Storming of the Engine House at Harpers Ferry, Capture of John Brown, October 1859

A pencil sketch showing a building with three archways being stormed by a group of people

“John Brown’s Raid, Notes by an Eyewitness” David Hunter Strother

Documents pertaining to David Hunter Strother's witnessing of the storming of Harper's Ferry. Included are a notebook and several sketches

Artist-journalist David Hunter Strother (1816-1888) arrived in Harpers Ferry just moments after Federal troops stormed Brown’s refuge in a fire engine house that later became known as Brown’s Fort. Brown lost half his men including two of his own sons in the encounter.  Strother recorded these events meticulously in his journal and sketchbook. His observations reached a national audience in the pages of Harper’s Weekly.  Brown’s Raid made Harpers Ferry indelibly identified with the Civil Rights movement.

Stereoscope View of John Brown’s Fort ca. 1861

An image of John Brown's fort displayed as a stereoscope image in front of a double eyed lens for viewing

While the precise date of this stereocard of the Harpers Ferry Engine House is unknown, it is likely that the building and its doors bear at least some marks sustained during John Brown’s extrication from the structure by U.S. Marines under Colonel Robert E. Lee on October 19, 1859.

Harpers Ferry (and Lockwood House) ca. June 1861 (first) and ca. 1863 (second)

Black and white image of a bridge destroyed by Confederate troops. Pieces of splintered wood sit in piles in the water below
The same bridge two years later. it has been reconstructed and is some distance away from the camera

These photos show the town of Harpers Ferry immediately after the destruction of the B&O Bridge across the Potomac by Confederate troops in June 1861 (first) and after the bridge was reconstructed (second).

Lockwood House, the first home of the Freewill Baptist Mission School and Storer College, is mostly obscured by trees at the top of the hill in the center of the photo at left.  The house is clearly visible in the photo at right. One of the finest residences in Harpers Ferry, Lockwood initially served as the home of the Armory paymaster. Converted into a military hospital in 1862, it later became the headquarters of Union Brigadier General Henry Lockwood. Major General Philip Sheridan also used the building briefly in 1864. Storer College founder Nathan Brackett first visited Lockwood House while serving as a chaplain and member of the Sanitary Commission in 1862. 

Note that most of the trees surrounding Lockwood had been cut down by the time the second photo was taken. The trees were used for assorted purposes including firewood by military troops.

Silas Curtis to Nathan Brackett, October 20 & November 7, 1865

A letter, two pages spread, in cursive on yellowed paper

A two-page letter, from Silas Curtis to Nathan Brackett. It is written in cursive on paper that has yellowed. The words on the bottom of the right side are small and closer together, indicating the writer was running out of space

These letters of October and November 1865 contain detailed instructions to Brackett regarding the establishment of schools and churches in Jefferson and Berkeley counties. “I like the district assigned to us” Curtis notes, as the region was both near the railroad and “near the border of civilization,” i.e. “the Free States.”

A Circular and an Appeal Announcing the Creation of Storer College

A large vertical rectangular page of a the Circular, with the masthead at the top. The page is divided into two columns of text.

Both an announcement and an appeal, this circular outlines the creation of a benevolent “Commission for the Promotion of Education in the South” and its goal of providing opportunities for the nation’s recently liberated population in the South.

Opposing Voices

A letter by James Colder, it has an image and letterhead of the First Free Baptist Church in the upper lefthand corner

A continuation of the previous page of James Colder's letter. It ends about halfway down the page, with Colder's signature.

Letter by James Colder, First Free Baptist Church, Harrisburg, PA (above)

The creation of a college exclusively for African Americans evidently had opponents within the Freewill Baptist church itself.  In the March 17, 1867 letter at left, Pastor James Colder of Harrisburg writes, “This plan for a ‘Colored College’ does not strike me favorably.... Why should we…build a college from which white students shall be excluded…?”  Colder goes on to point out that excluding white students, should they wish to attend, was in effect reverse discrimination.  It was perhaps in response to such opinions that Storer College’s acts of incorporation, written six months later, included the provision that the school would be open to all races.

A white middle-aged woman looks to the right off camera. She has her hair back and is wearing a dark colored dress with a stiff white collar. She has a serious expression on her face.

A two-page spread of a letter written by Varina Banks Howell Davis, pictured above

The final page of the letter pictured above. It ends 3/4 of the way down the page with Varina Banks Howell Davis's signature

 Letter by First Lady Varina Banks Howell Davis (above)

Considering that educating slaves was potentially a capital offense in Virginia prior to the Civil War, it is not surprising that the establishment of schools for that express purpose was opposed by many southerners.  The author of the letter, Varina Banks Howell Davis, was once the First Lady of the Confederacy, Mrs. Jefferson Davis. As late as 1906, in a letter to a friend in Weston, West Virginia, Davis decries “education of the black race” warning apocalyptically that “if the whites do nothing we shall soon have an educated horde of brindle idlers who will trample on the poor creatures of our race and ruin our country.”

Stanton University?

A two-page letter. The paper is slightly discolored and it is written in cursive.

Letter written by Oren Cheney. It is on yellowed paper and written in cursive

In this remarkable letter of April 25, 1867, Oren Cheney reports to Freewill Baptist leadership his successful appeal to U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton for the transfer of Lockwood House and three other buildings recently abandoned by the military for use by the Freewill Baptist Mission School.  Stanton’s consent prompted Cheney to suggest that the institution be named “Stanton University.” “Don’t laugh,” he added!

Cheney and Stanton

A middle-aged man with a gray beard and medium length hair looks to his left. He is wearing a jacket, a stiff high-collared shirt and a necktie

Freewill Baptist Educator Oren B. Cheney (1816-1903)

In addition to playing a key role in founding Storer College, Cheney was the founder of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

A middle-aged man with graying hair and a beard down to his chest looks to his left away from the camera. He is wearing a vest and jacket, and has a serious expression on his face

A pair of hexagonal shaped spectacles in a brown leather case with a lighter brown lining. they are resting upside down with the legs pointing toward the sky

Spectacles of U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869)

As Lincoln’s Secretary of War, it was Stanton who approved the transfer of Lockwood House and three other Federal buildings to the Freewill Baptist Mission School initiative in 1867.

“To raise up teachers for the Southern people from among themselves…”

A pamphlet open, the pages yellowed. the left page reads "...The Commission for the Promotion of Education in the South..." in cursive

The Commission for the Promotion of Education in the South was established by the Freewill Baptist Church and incorporated by the New Hampshire legislature to raise, receive and transfer funds to the new institution, Storer College.  Among the members were Nathan Brackett, Silas Curtis and Frederick Douglass.

Original Articles of Incorporation and Stockholders Minute Book to Storer College

A book opened to a two page spread. Both pages are filled with neat cursive. This is the original articles of incorporation and stockholders minute book to Storer College.

“The undersigned agree to become a Corporation by the name of Storer College for the purpose of establishing and maintaining an institution of learning embracing a normal school, an academy, and a college for teaching all classes of persons without distinction of color, all the branches of useful information usually taught in similar institutions…”

Lockwood House, the first home of the Harpers Ferry Mission School

A sepia-toned illustration of a tall mansion in a grassy field. There is a tree to the right. The house has two stories, the top with a fenced balcony that spans the front. The front of the first floor has pillars in front of a porch.

From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, September 3, 1864

Nathan Cook Brackett (1836-1910), President of Storer College, 1865-1897

A middle-aged white man with a wave of dark hair and a short but full beard. His eyes are narrow and framed by low eyebrows. He is wearing a jacket and a white shirt

John Storer (1796-1867), Benefactor of Storer College

An older man with styled white hair and a long, full white beard. He has a slim face, high forehead, and pronounced cheekbones. He is wearing a vest, a jacket and a white shirt

Making the Dream a Reality

A two-page spread of a letter from Reverend George Tiffany Day to Nathan Brackett.

“I really enjoyed handling that piece of paper.” Rev. Day to Brother Brackett, November 26, 1867

In this letter to Nathan Brackett, Reverend George Tiffany Day expresses his joy at personally holding a check for $6,000 from the Freedman’s Bureau. The check helped fulfill the goal of raising $10,000 in funds to match John Storer’s pledge of $10,000.

A two-page letter on yellowed paper that his been taped at the top left and right sides of the pages.

“I hope you will succeed in the matter."

Joseph Hoke, WV State Senator from Martinsburg and a member of the Commission for the Promotion of Education in the South, wrote to Brackett during the 1868 legislative session, stating his belief that the Senate’s vote on the Storer Charter would be close.  Fearing that his vote may not count due to a conflict of interest, Hoke declared he would resign from the Commission in order to vote for the charter.

The Incorporation of Storer College

A page from the Charter of Storer College, Record book No.1. It is written in cursive on yellowed paper.

Charter of Storer College, Record Book No. 1 (above)

William P. Hubbard, Clerk of the House of Delegates, transcribed the legislative act that provided for the incorporation of Storer College.  The Act includes language that created Storer as a racially integrated school "…for the purpose of establishing & maintaining an institution of learning for the education of youth, without distinction of race or color…"

A page from a printed book of "An Act to Incorporate the Storer College," passed March 3, 1868.

West Virginia Legislature, "An Act to Incorporate the Storer College," Passed March 3, 1868

Looking Down the Shenandoah River from Camp Hill, Harpers Ferry

The Shenandoah river from a high view. The river snakes between two mountains covered in trees. On the mountain to the left is the Lockwood house. On the right, in the valley are several buildings.

This scene affords an excellent view of Lockwood House at upper left.

“Two Notes Which Made Storer Possible”

An envelope with a note written in messy cursive "SAVE. 2 notes which made Storer possible"

Two notes totalling $2300

These two notes totaling $2300 represented part of the funds needed to match John Storer’s grant of $10,000 to found Storer College. The matching fund total was raised with the tremendous help of a $6,000 contribution from the Freedmen’s Bureau. Note the revenue stamps on the back of the drafts. These designate that taxes were paid on the transactions. The handwriting on the envelope quoted above is believed to be that of Storer President Henry McDonald.

The Deed to Storer College

The deed to Storer College. It is a two-page spread, the pages yellowed, with two bright blue seals stuck on the righthand page

This document legally transferred four buildings and the land upon which they stood to Storer College, fulfilling Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s 1867 pledge to Oren Cheney. 

Looking Towards the Gap from Camp Hill, Harpers Ferry, W. Va.

A postcard of the gap of the Shenandoah between two tree-covered hills in Harper's Ferry

This “sepia albertype” postcard shows the hill upon which the Storer campus rests.
Lockwood House is indicated as number ‘(1)’ at the ‘x’ at the top of the hill. Numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5, denote Brackett, McDowell, and Franklin halls and the Storer Gymnasium.

Early Storer College Diploma

A piece of paper that reads "Storer College, Harpers Ferry,  West Va. Diploma"

The founders of Storer College forged a school offering ‘higher education’ at assorted levels consisting of three divisions -- a preparatory academy, or high school, a normal school for training school teachers, and a college division.

This diploma was conferred to William H. Thomas, a graduate of the Normal School program, on May 30, 1872.  After graduation, Thomas continued his education at another institution, eventually earning a Doctor of Theology degree. In 1909, Dr. Thomas settled in Newport, Rhode Island, where he became the leader of the A. M. E. (African Methodist Episcopal Church) New England Conference in 1909.


Storer College Scrapbook, 1870-1915

A large book with yellowed pages is opened to a two-page spread. There are four documents pasted inside: the top left is pink, the top right is yellow, and the bottom two are white.

This bountiful scrapbook contains a wealth of ephemera regarding current events at Storer from about 1870 to 1915.  The scrapbook reveals that a vibrant program of concerts, lectures, exhibitions and other activities flourished at the institution during this period.   

Storer College Singers, 1873

Eight African American people pose for a photo: four men and four women. They are in two rows, two women stand between two men in the back and the front row alternates. They are dressed in suits and high quality dresses. They're the storer college singers

This early Storer musical ensemble went on tour in 1873 and presented concerts in forty cities.  From left to right in the upper row standing are Robert Trent, Portia Lovett, Mary Ella Dixon, and Charlie Hale. Sitting from left to right are Walter Johnson, Alberta Redmond, Hamilton Keys, and Mertia Lovett.

Storer Faculty Record Book, 1892-1909

A large book is open to two white pages filled with neat writing.

Members of the faculty and administration met throughout the year to deal with the college’s academic and behavior issues. During an extra session in May 1909, decisions were made by vote regarding the expulsion of three students and also in regard to which students were to be graduated in June.

Storer Catalogues, 1882-1936

Five documents spread out, each on top of the other. The first is a pale tan, the second a warm yellow-brown, the third a blue-white, and the fourth and fifth are a light yellow-tan.

These booklets contained basic information that all potential and enrolled students needed to know in order to thrive as part of the Storer community, including academic calendars, course descriptions, course requirements, a physical description of the campus, and lists of alumni.

Storer College Commencement Announcements for the Classes of 1902, 1907, and 1910

A high-quality graduation announcement including a card, a nameplate, and an envelope, displayed on a blue background

Eloquently designed announcements like these were created for each graduating class member

The Storer Sentinel 1909-1910 Yearbook, Vol. II

A bright orange book with gold text and decoration reading "The Storer Sentinel"

“Did my feet really press the soil of Harpers Ferry, the focal point of the early Civil War?” The Henry McDonald Diary

A tall, narrow book open to a two-page spread. The pages are yellowed and filled with neat cursive.

Henry McDonald arrived in Harpers Ferry in September 1899 and kept a journal chronicling his first year as Storer’s president. Awed by the historic atmosphere of the town and its natural beauty, McDonald refused to allow “the ills to overshadow the place”. One of the “ills” to which he referred was that Harpers Ferry was not a “temperance town.”  Storer’s founders abhorred liquor. McDonald served as Storer’s president till 1944.

Holdings of the Roger Williams Library of Storer College

Several pages of documents stacked on top of each other. They are written in a reddish ink.

Storer College had an outstanding library for an institution of its size. These pages are reproduced from an inventory of books done ca. 1880 which includes more than 5,000 entries. In comparison, the West Virginia University Library held 6,000 volumes in 1889. It is quite likely that WVU, which started with only 247 books, owned fewer books than Storer when this inventory was made. 

Storer College Class of 1895

A group of ten African American individuals, dressed in suits and elegant gowns. Four men make up the back row, two men and two women sit in the middle, and two men sit on the ground in the front. They are sitting on a blanket on the grass outside.

The Morning Star, 1895

A paper, opened and displayed vertically, with a masthead reading "The Morning Star" along the top. Above the fold is text and a picture of a landscape; below the fold is text and images of four people.

A weekly newspaper owned and published by the Freewill Baptists in New England, this organ passionately campaigned against slavery beginning with its 1st issue in 1826. After the Civil War, the paper focused on the betterment and education of African Americans. Displayed here is a facsimile of an issue featuring Storer College.

“The cost of an education is diligence, economy and self-denial” The Storer Code of Conduct

Two pages, displayed horizontally, each with two vertical columns of text.

Due to the high moral standards of Storer’s founders, Storer’s code of ethics was extremely rigorous. Both students and faculty were expected exhibit a high level of moral and pious character on and off campus.  Strict requirements and rules were applied to every aspect of a student’s life while attending Storer. To deviate from the rules meant disciplinary actions and possible expulsion. Student conduct requirements included the following: 

Compliance with all regulations for the promotion of health, cleanliness and good order.

Dorm rooms were to be open at all times for inspection.

Lights out at 10:00PM.

Attendance at Sunday school and church, and Wednesday night prayer meeting. (All were responsible for possessing a Bible)

Prohibition included:

-No dancing, drinking alcohol, playing cards, use of tobacco, use of profane language, loitering about the buildings after class, and no leaving town without permission.

-No pleasure excursions, rides, or walks in mixed company without special permission.

Separate prohibitions for young ladies included:

-Not allowed to be out of their rooms at night or to visit the railroad station without special permission.

-Leave at home all jewelry and “gaudy clothes, Storer is a place for work, not display”.

Excessive? Possibly, but consider this: in the 90 year history of the school, not one couch was burned (intentionally, that is)!

“I solemnly pledge . . . I will not drink” 

An open book with distressed and yellow pages, with rows of signatures.

Abstaining from drinking intoxicating liquor was a fundamental requirement for anyone associated with most Christian institutions such as Storer. This volume records the pledge taken by members of the Storer faculty, administration and the student body. Each added their signature to this ledger binding their promise.

Curtis Freewill Baptist Church and Bylaws

Four pages of a document layered on top of each other. A black and white photo of a two storey building lays on top. The building is covered in snow.

Located adjacent to the Storer College campus, the Curtis Freewill Baptist Church served as a place of worship for both the Storer community and local residents.  The funds to complete the building of the church were donated in 1895 by the family of Silas Curtis who played a prominent role in the founding of the college.

Niagara Movement Leaders

Four men outside on the grass. Three stand in a line and the fourth sits in a chair in front of them. They are wearing suits and white shirts

W.E.B. DuBois (seated) and (left to right) J.R. Clifford, I.M. Hershaw, and F.H.M. Murray at Harpers Ferry, 1906

Women at the 1906 Niagara Movement Conference at Harpers Ferry

A group of women in white shirts and full skirts stand outside. One sits in front, looking away from the camera

Mrs. Gertrude Wright Morgan (seated) and (left to right) Mrs. O.M. Walker, Mrs. H.F.M. Murray, and Mrs. Mollie Lewis Kelan, Mrs. Ida D. Bailey, Miss Sadie Shorter, and Mrs. Charlotte Hershaw. 

Niagara Movement at Storer College

A document in a clean, official script, slightly yellowed, displayed on a blue background. The title reads "The Garrison Pledge of the Niagara Movement"

On August 15-18, 1906, Storer College hosted the first African-American meeting of the Niagara Movement, the predecessor to the modern National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The group met for the first time the year before on the Canadian side of the border, and called for an end to segregation and disenfranchisement and resisted Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of conciliation and assimilation.

A typed document, yellowed. The letterhead reads "The editorial rooms of The Crisis."

West Virginia’s first African-American lawyer and Storer College graduate, J.R. Clifford, organized the local arrangements at Storer. At the national meeting, DuBois launched a call for the unimpeded right to vote; the end of discrimination in public accommodations; the right to interact with all people without interference; the federal government to take action against illiteracy; and justice. In 1905, in honor of the centenary of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s birth, W.E.B. DuBois penned the Garrison Pledge of the Niagara Movement that was dedicated to “the realization of that great ideal of human liberty.”

Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and West Virginia

A front page of speech, the title reads "Frederick Douglass John Brown and West Virginia.:

On May 30, 1881, Frederick Douglass delivered an address on John Brown at Storer College. He had written the speech and presented it in several northern cities before donating the text to Storer to be published. Proceeds from the sale of the publication would go to an endowment to support a John Brown professorship at the school. John Reuben Sheeler, the first known African American to receive a Ph.D. from WVU in history in 1954, wrote the introduction to this reprinting the address and signed the cover.

Niagara Movement and John Brown’s Fort

A stone engine house stands in a flat field, surrounded at the edges by trees.

The Engine House in which Brown and his men had taken refuge became known as John Brown’s Fort. In 1891, the building was sold and moved to Chicago as an attraction for visitors to the World’s Columbian Exhibition. The building returned to Harpers Ferry in 1894 and was reassembled on a local farm. Several years later, a fundraising drive was begun by Storer College to purchase the building and move it to the college’s hilltop campus.

An open book, with a two-page spread of a ledger with several signatures.

In August 1906, Storer College hosted the second meeting of the Niagara Movement which led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) three years later. During the meeting, the attendees made a special pilgrimage to John Brown’s Fort. W.E.B. DuBois and others removed their shoes and socks upon entering the Fort, which they considered hallowed ground.

The Journeys of John Brown’s Fort

A stone building with three archways sits on a stone foundation in the grass, narrow trees frame the building

The United States Armory Engine House, later dubbed “John Brown’s Fort,” has a wanderlust type history. The sole armory building to remain unscathed during the Civil War, the edifice was likely spared because it was used as a stable by both Union and Confederate troops.

In 1892, the building was dismantled and shipped to Chicago, where it was exhibited in conjunction with the 1893 World’s Fair. Receiving only a handful of visitors, the exhibit closed after just eight days.

The same engine house—stone with three archways on the front—stands next to a road in front of buildings. Across the road, in the foreground, are several cloth tents.

The building was subsequently dismantled and destined for the junk pile until Kate Field, a Washington, DC journalist, interceded, raising funds to move the fort back to Harpers Ferry. The edifice sat in a field near Storer College until Trustees raised money to install it on the Storer campus in 1909.

When Storer closed in 1955, the little fort was orphaned once again. This time, the National Park Service came to the rescue, moving the structure back downtown, near its original location.

Storer College Orchestra, ca. 1920

A group of individuals stands outside, holding instruments. A large drum sits in front of them.

The Storer College Orchestra frequently played at Mountain View and Island Park, two nearby vacationing spots in the Potomac River near Harpers Ferry, WV.

Storer’s Musical Traditions

A piece of sheet music titled, "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You"

Storer College had a long tradition of vocal and musical training. In its early days as a mission school, Storer’s teachers recognized the singing talent of many of their students, and sought to hone their abilities. Storer boasted a skilled vocal quartet which formed in 1870. Initially called the Union Chorus, later known as the Harpers Ferry Singers, the quartet was renowned for its talent and recruited members who could perform a cappella. Later, the quartet became an octet and embarked on a fundraising tour for the College in 1895.

During the 1905-1906 term, a musical department was added to the curriculum. All students received vocal lessons. Those who were interested in further training could take part in private classes for an additional fee. In 1906, students paid $6.00 per term to take piano or organ lessons. Offerings in musical training expanded over the years as styles changed and student interests shifted.

A middle-aged African American man in a suit and tie sits in front of a table covered in sheet music. He looks to the side, past the table. His expression is serious and thoughtful.

Several distinguished musicians graduated from Storer College, notably Don Redman (pictured). Redman, class of 1920, played in Storer’s band and later became one of America’s foremost jazz musicians and composers in the 1920s and 1930s.

College Sports Teams

Four photos of different Storer College sports teams: baseball, girls basketball, track, and football.

Clockwise from top left:

Baseball Team, 1911.

Girls Basketball Team, 1920.

Track Team, circa 1920.

Football Team, 1922.

College Athletics: The Golden Tornadoes

Several pieces of memorabilia concerning the Storer College Golden Tornadoes.

Physical education and athletics reinforced Storer College’s mission to teach students to be self-reliant citizens. The Storer College Catalogue of 1897-1898 asserts that “body and mind must be developed together.”  According to that Catalogue, all students performed exercises accompanied by music three times per week and were required to march in military columns to and from their recitations.  While these practices are not mentioned in later catalogues, athletics played an important role in Storer’s educational mission.

Organized sports teams developed around the turn of the century, although no funding was officially appropriated for them.  An independent and student led Athletic Association financed Storer’s Golden Tornadoes by collecting subscription fees from members.  The old Robinson Barn served as the gymnasium for many years. As sports gained popularity and participation, the need for suitable athletic facilities spurred fundraising efforts in the 1920s and 1940s.

A document describing a sports meet

A football team was organized around 1900 and played its first game against West Virginia Institute in Charleston in 1901.  Baseball, track and field, and men’s and women’s basketball teams came about in the early 1900s as well.  These Storer teams primarily competed against high school teams from Washington, D.C. and the Baltimore area.  In 1932, Storer College joined the Middle Atlantic Athletic Association.  Its chief competitors in this conference included African-American normal and industrial schools and state colleges in the region. 

Active participation in collegiate sports continued at Storer College until its closure and was an important part of campus life and educational training.  It inspired independence and mental strength that Storer graduates carried with them well beyond their time at the school. 


Two Storer College studen beanies, gold and white alternating panels with "SC" on the top one and "S" on the bottom one.

The Storer College colors, old gold and white, are well represented by the student beanies and banner in this exhibit case, and the Alumni banner mounted above.  

An issue of the Storer Record. It is a document with two long columns of text

Also included are issues of a Storer student newspaper, The Storer Record.  The publication was issued in a variety of sizes during a half century of publication ranging from 1892 to 1942.  The name of the newspaper changed to The Tornado in ensuing years, the very last issue is included elsewhere in this gallery. 

Large dark gold cloth banner with a diagonal stripe of white up the middle reading "SCA." On the upper left corner is a Storer college shield logo and in the lower right is a blue logo of two men surrounded by a circle

A gold Storer College license plate tag. The top is a circle with a crest and the bottom is a rectangle that reads "STORER." 

The Storer College Bulletins and a license plate tag also survive in the Storer College archives. 

The Loving Cup

A large, bronze cup trophy on a black base.

Loving Cup Donated by the Storer Club of Wheeling, 1938

A.L. Colton’s Physics Class Notes, May 16, 1903

A two-page spread of notebook pages filled with neat cursive.

Storer Honor Students Ledger, 1908-1944

An open ledger with signatures of students who excelled in academics

This ledger records the names of students who achieved academic excellence at Storer over a period of 36 years.  The three students in the photograph in this case -- Isabelle Stewart, Raymond McNeal and Odetta Johnson -- are among those listed on these pages.

Storer Student Group, ca. 1942

A group of African American students wearing school clothes and smiling at the camera

Note John Brown’s Fort in the background of this World War II-era photograph.

The End of Storer

The front page of a paper titled "The Storer College Builder"

Financial hardships, low enrollment, and national legislation would ultimately lead to the closing of Storer College. Over the years, the school received funding from a number of different sources, including the State of West Virginia, Baptist Church entities, and income generated by the college from fees, sale of farm products and investments. As all sources waxed and waned, financial security was a constant concern. By the 1920s, significant deficits existed, but tuition remained low to conform with Storer’s mission to be accessible to poor students. In 1929, a plan for state annexation was approved by the Board of Trustees but failed to pass in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Storer College would continue to struggle financially through its remaining years. In 1953, the Board petitioned the American Baptist Convention for support, but received little response except for the suggestion of a new fundraising initiative. The “Build Storer” campaign focused on growing enrollment, seeking more funds from alumni and attaining additional help from churches.

Several slips of paper dealing with the "Save Storer College Campaign"

When the Brown v. Board of Education decision integrated schools across America in 1954, the State of West Virginia withdrew its funding as separate schools for minorities were no longer required. Enrollment decreased once again as minority students were no longer barred from other colleges. Storer managed to survive the 1954-1955 academic year thanks to the Alumni Association’s “Save Storer” campaign. But no efforts were enough to sustain the school. The decision was made to close Storer College for good in 1955.

A stamp that reads "Save Storer Campaign"

In 1958, the Board reviewed two proposals for the future of the college. The majority ultimately voted for the Alderson-Broaddus plan in which the school was closed and its assets dispersed to other Baptist affiliated colleges. Two alumni, Mary Peyton Dyson and Dr. Madison Spencer Briscoe, filed an injunction to stop the closure in 1959. The District Court in Washington, D.C. determined that they had no jurisdiction over the case and remanded it back to West Virginia courts, essentially a loss for Dyson and Briscoe. The alumni did not pursue further legal proceedings.

Ultimately, Storer College merged with Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. Its financial assets went to Alderson-Broaddus in Philippi, West Virginia. In 1960, legislation placed the Storer College campus back under federal governance, eventually becoming part of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.

Some Distinguished Storer College Alumni

An African American man in a suit and striped tie holds a pencil in his hand, which rests on the table in front of him. He looks thoughtfully to the side, away from the camera.

Don Redman (1900-1964)

A native of Piedmont, WV, he was a jazz performer, composer, arranger and bandleader.  After graduating from Storer College Redman attended the Boston Conservatory.  He began his career in 1923 playing and arranging with the Fletcher Henderson orchestra where his contributions helped to define the big band Swing sound.   While playing with his own orchestra he continued to perform with jazz greats Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie and Harry James.  

John Francis Wheaton (1866-1922)

He was a noted politician and orator.  Wheaton graduated as Valedictorian from Storer College.    Wheaton opened a law practice in Hagerstown, becoming the fourth African American to pass the bar and practice law in Maryland.   Wheaton was the national president of the Black Elks Club, advisor to heavyweight boxing champ Jack Johnson, and counsel for Marcus Garvey. Wheaton worked in New York City’s district attorney’s office until his death in 1922.

An African American man with a narrow face and round glasses looks past the camera thoughtfully. He wears a white shirt and dark colored jacket

Henry Curtis Brooks  (Houston Brooks pictured)

He and his brother Houston left their home in Alexandria, Virginia in 1946 to attend Storer College.  After graduating in 1950, Henry earned both a bachelor’s degree in Divinity and a masters’ degree in Sacred Theology from Andover Newton Theological School.  He continued his education at Boston University, graduating with a doctorate in Psychology and Counseling.  From this background he developed a course of study that is today recognized as the forerunner of spiritual-based family and crisis intervention. 

 A young African American man with round rimmed glasses looks mildly into the camera. He is wearing a light colored suit and tie.

Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996)

Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe was a leading figure in Nigerian nationalism.  Azikiwe came to America to study, graduating from Storer College in 1926.  He continued his education at Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania.  After his return to Nigeria, a newspaper career led him into a life in politics that included appointment by Queen Elizabeth II to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, head of state, and Governor-general  and ultimately the first president of Nigeria. 

A woman in a white shirt and light colored trousers stands next to a horse. In one hand she holds the reigns, with the other she pets behind the horse's ears. She is smiling

Sylvia Bishop (1921-2005)

Recognized as the first African-American woman licensed to train thoroughbred horses, Sylvia Bishop began exercising and grooming horses at age 17 while attending Storer College preparatory school.  As a trainer, her horses raced at to the Charles Town Race Track and tracks in Maryland.  Bishop owned and trained thoroughbred racing horses for more than 60 years before severe arthritis forced her to retire in 2000. 

A light-skinned African American woman sits in a silky evening dress and fur around her shoulders. Her hair is styled into an up-do and her hands rest on her lap. She looks into the camera with a serious expression on her face.

Coralie Franklin Cook (1861-1942)

Born into slavery, Cook became the first descendant of a Monticello slave to attend college, graduating from Storer College in 1880.  After graduation she returned to Storer to teach elocution and English. She also taught English at Howard University.  Cook counted reformers such as Susan B. Anthony among her friends.  She was a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women and founder of the School of Expression at the Washington Conservatory of Music.

An African American man in a suit and tie sits, one hand holding a brimmed hat on his thigh. He is wearing round glasses and looking quizzically and seriously into the camera.

Allen E. Cole (1883-1970)

Born in Kearneysville, WV, Cole  was a graduate of Storer College.  Cole moved to Cleveland where he met Joseph Opet, manager of Frank Moore Studios. Opet introduced Cole to photography and hired him as his assistant.  After working for the studios for 6 years Cole opened a photography studio in his own home.   He founded the Progressive Business League, served as its treasurer and was the first African American to be a member of the Cleveland Society of Professional Photographers.   

A black woman wearing a white hat and a dark overcoat over a skirt, looks to the left. She is holding a small purse in her hand.

Ella Nora Phillips Stewart (1893-1987)

The daughter of sharecroppers living in Stringtown, WV, Stewart was the first African-American woman to become a pharmacist in the nation.   She attended Storer College, graduating with a preparatory degree in 1910.  Stewart then enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh as the first African-American student to attend the pharmacy program.  She became a prominent businesswoman and activist, serving as a U.S. Goodwill Ambassador to Asia and president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. 

A middle-aged African American man with white hair, and a mustache. He wears a suit and bowtie and looks slightly out of frame.

John Robert (J.R.) Clifford (1848-1933)

He was editor and publisher of the Pioneer Press, the first African-American newspaper in WV. Clifford fought for the Union, serving in the U.S. Colored Troops.  He attended Storer College after the war, graduating in 1877.  The first African-American attorney in WV, he along with W.E.B. DuBois, was a co-founder of the Niagara Movement, forerunner of the NAACP and organizer of the Second Annual Meeting of the Niagara Movement at Storer College in 1906. 

A black man wearing a suit sits with a leg crossed, and his hands on his lap. He looks thoughtfully into the camera

Madison Spencer Briscoe (1904-1995)

He attended Storer College, graduating with a preparatory degree.  After further education at Lincoln University and Columbia University, he returned to Storer to teach both high school and college courses.  An entomologist, Briscoe taught a variety of biological science courses at Storer.  Briscoe became the first African-American member of the West Virginia Academy of Sciences.  The author of many journal articles, Briscoe also wrote a Laboratory Manual for Biology.  

John Brown’s Fort en route to Harpers Ferry, 1968

A building being transported. Several people walk next to it

John Brown’s Fort moved for a final time in 1968 when the National Park Service relocated the building to lower Harpers Ferry near its original location