Abandoned school in Kentucky

Lincoln School, Paducah Kentucky
Date added: January 03, 2023 Categories: Kentucky School
Front and north elevations of 1938 building, looking southwest

Lincoln School is the most significant building in Paducah constructed for the public education of the city's African American youth. Consisting of three buildings erected in 1894, 1921, and 1938, respectively, Lincoln School was developed to meet the demand for high-quality educational facilities for African Americans, for whom it represented for over 65 years the means to a better life.

The first educational institution in Paducah was established in 1829. This was a private school conducted in the home of a local minister. Early private schools included the Paducah Male University and the Paducah Female Academy. These schools were funded by a special lottery authorized by the Kentucky State Legislature. The town's first public schools were established in 1864 when two schools were opened to white students. By 1881, there existed four schools for whites: Jefferson School, Paducah High School, Fourth District School, and Lee School. By 1893, the enrollment in the public schools totaled 2,187.

In 1882, the Paducah Public School system began to provide educational facilities for black youths in grades one to eight. In the 1880s, blacks students in grades one to three went to either the First District School in the northern section of the town or the Second District School in the southern section. Students in grades four to eight attended the Third District school. (None of these schools remains standing.) No classes above the eighth grade were conducted. By 1889, 944 black students were enrolled in the public schools.

By 1894, the black elementary students were divided between the First District, which covered the area of the city north of Broadway, and the Second District, which covered the remainder of the city south of Broadway. In 1894, the Paducah Board of Education constructed a two-story brick building at the southwest corner of South Eighth and Ohio Streets for a new elementary school for the black students in the Second District. The school was located in the midst of the town's dominant black neighborhood. The institution was named Lincoln School in honor of former President Abraham Lincoln. Another school, Garfield (destroyed) was constructed in that same year for the black students in the First District. The minutes of the Paducah Board of Education during this period indicate a concern for providing high-quality educational opportunities for the black children of Paducah. This concern is best reflected by the effort to build a handsome, substantial school building like Lincoln for black elementary students. The board also promoted efforts to make school attendance compulsory for children of all races.

In 1895, several interested citizens approached the board of education about the need for a higher course of study for the black youths of Paducah. The board immediately established a high school department with a three-year course of study at Lincoln School. The high school department was to share quarters with the elementary school until 1921. The first class of eight girls and two boys graduated from the high school in June 1898.

The series of distinguished educators who served as principals of Lincoln School during its seventy-year history chart the institution's growth. During the school's existence, the principal supervised both the elementary and high schools. For many years, the principal also taught all high school courses. The first principal at Lincoln School was E. W. Benton, a graduate of Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, who served from 1894 to 1906. From 1906 to 1915, G. W. Jackson, a graduate of Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, served as principal. During his tenure, the board of education added another year to the course of study, providing Lincoln with a full four-year high school department. Jackson's successor was J. G. G. Prather, who was there until 1917.

In 1917, the board of education added an industrial course to the school which consisted of cooking and sewing for the girls and manual training for the boys. The enrollment in the high school department increased from 58 students in 1917 to 98 in 1921. The increase in enrollment caused the board of education to purchase four adjacent buildings, including three houses and the former site of the Second Baptist Church, which were converted to classrooms.

The board of education recognized the need for new high school facilities for both white and black students. A survey of the Paducah Public School system in 1919 recommended several major construction projects, including the expansion of Lincoln School. The recommendation stated that the new Lincoln School would accommodate both a junior and senior high school and be well-equipped for both industrial and commercial coursework. The survey further stated that the present "negro buildings" were a disgrace to the city. A $250,000 bond issue was passed in 1919 by the voters of Paducah for the construction of two new high school buildings. Both of the new high schools were designed by Louisville architect Nevin Henry Wischmeyer and completed in 1921. The cost of the white high school building was $165,000 and the cost for the black high school was $85,000. The new school building for the black youths was sited on the lots adjacent to the original 1894 building of Lincoln School and contained fifteen classrooms, a library, a principal's office, and two restrooms. The 1894 building continued to hold the Lincoln Elementary School. The 1921-1922 report of the Paducah Public School system noted that "the new high school buildings are complete and furnished. They represent the very best type of building found, and sound in construction. They will be monuments to the progressiveness of the city of Paducah." The construction of the Lincoln High School building was an important step in the effort to provide high-quality educational facilities for Paducah's black youth. Designed to be equal in quality to the new white high school building, the modern black high school was a tribute to the commitment to educational excellence by the board of education and the community at large.

In 1927, the most important educator connected to Lincoln School, E. W. Whiteside, became principal. Whiteside, who served as principal for thirty-six years, constantly strove to expand and improve the school. His commitment to the school and the community was reflected by the new school motto: "Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve." Several important advances were made at the school during Whiteside's tenure. Lincoln was the first school in Paducah to conduct government-sponsored adult education classes during the Depression. The Lincoln High School Band was created in 1930, and led by Professor L. A. Milligan. In 1937, the high school became a member of the Southern Association for the Accrediting of High Schools and Colleges. The high school had sixteen teachers and a full-time librarian by 1938, the year the auditorium/gymnasium building was added at a cost of $30,000. The construction of this building reflected the growing emphasis given by the school to extracurricular activities, such as basketball, vocal music, and dramatics. The facility also became an important social and cultural center for activities for the entire black population of Paducah.

The school continued to grow in the 1940s and 1950s. During the 1940-41 school year, Lincoln won the First District football and basketball championships. A school newspaper, The Hornet, was published under the direction of Mr. H. W. Sledd and Mrs. M. M. Johnson. In the 1950s, a business department and a driver education program were added to the curriculum.

Whiteside's guidance of the school ended in 1965 when he became the Assistant Director of Curriculum and Guidance for the Paducah Board of Education. B. W. Browne served as principal until 1965 when Lincoln High School was consolidated with Paducah Tilghman High School, the white high school for the community. This creation of one public high school for all races was the result of desegregation efforts in Paducah in the 1960s.

After the high school was moved, the elementary school continued to operate until 1970 when the entire Lincoln School complex became the site for Paducah's Head Start Program. The school buildings have been vacant since the Head Start Program was moved to a new site in 1980.

Building Description

The Lincoln School complex is located in the midst of an urban neighborhood that has traditionally served the black population of Paducah. The school complex is comprised of three buildings constructed for educational purposes in 1894, 1921, and 1938, respectively. The earliest building possesses detailing typical of the late Italianate period. The 1921 and 1938 buildings possess details typical of institutional buildings constructed in the Classical Revival style.

The Lincoln School complex takes up half of the city block bordered by Ohio Street on the north, Tennessee Street on the south, South Eighth Street on the east, and South Ninth Street on the west. The other lots on the block are vacant or occupied by single-family residences. The block immediately to the east of the site is covered by Lincoln Court, a 1960s public housing project. Many of the buildings in the area are heavily altered frame residences or brick commercial buildings. Many of the lots in the surrounding area were cleared during urban renewal projects and are now vacant or have been redeveloped with modern single-family residences. Within a two-block area of the Lincoln School complex are the Burks Chapel A.M.E. Church and the black Masonic Lodge building, which with the Lincoln School complex survive as the only significant landmarks in the neighborhood. The western boundary of the Paducah Downtown Commercial District is six blocks from Lincoln School.

Arranged in a row along South Eighth Street, the three buildings in the Lincoln School complex form a U-shaped configuration by virtue of the individual building depths, with the 1921 high school building at the center and the 1894 and 1938 buildings at the two ends. The buildings sit about twenty feet from the sidewalk, except for the 1938 gymnasium building, where the front steps and entrance block start at the sidewalk. While much of the school complex is hidden by wild vegetation, some of the early plantings of forsythia bushes in front of the high school remain. The rear portion of the complex is covered with an asphalt parking area that also served as a basketball court.

The buildings in the Lincoln School complex reflect the development of this educational institution. The oldest structure in the complex is the 1894 brick building at the corner of South Eighth Street and Ohio Street that was constructed for an elementary school for the black children in the southern portion of the city. While continuing to serve as an elementary school, this building began to accommodate a high school department in 1895. When constructed, this was a two-story brick building with simple Italianate detailing. The South Eighth and Ohio Streets facades each had a central projecting entrance portico. The South Eighth Street facade had two windows on each side of the central portico. The Ohio Street facade had four windows on each side of its entrance. All of these windows had four-over-four, double-hung sash. The dominant architectural feature of the building was the use of brick corbelling as decoration. Projecting brickwork created a watercourse and a belt course around the building. The brickwork dropped down from the belt course and the cornice to create hooded crowns above each of the windows and doorways.

The 1894 building has been severely altered. The entire second floor was removed around 1920 and all of the original doors and windows have been replaced with modern steel and glass components. The South Eighth Street entrance has been filled in with brick and a modern window and the original brickwork repointed with a cement mixture. An aluminum guttering system has been installed around the top of the building. The brickwork that once acted as a belt course around the building now appears to be a cornice. While the alterations are regretful, on the remaining level all of the fenestration (except for the South Eighth Street entrance) and decorative brickwork survive to identify this as a Victorian school building. A planned restoration of the doors and windows to their original appearance will greatly enhance the building.

The dominant building in the complex is the two-story brick high school structure that was erected in 1921. This impressive example of Classical Revival architecture has a symmetrical front with a monumental tetrastyle Corinthian entrance portico flanked by four bays of double windows on each side. Each of the windows has twelve-over-twelve frame sashes. The broken pedimented main doorway is decorated with urns and swags and the original front door is topped by a granite keystone. Regularly placed granite panels mark the area between the first and second floors. A flat band of stone runs across the top of the building's main and side facades, creating a cornice effect. The building is capped with a flat parapet wall with stone coping that is stepped up several inches at the entrance bay.

The two end facades have entranceways comprised of double doors surrounded by sidelights and a three-part transom window. Directly above each entrance is a second-story window that provides light to the second-story hallway. These three-part windows have a central unit with twelve-over-twelve sash and side units with six-over-six sash. The sides of the building also have decorative brickwork that form large rectangles, with each corner of the shape highlighted by stone inserts. A granite panel matching those on the front of the building rest in each of these rectangles.

A cornerstone at the northeast corner of the building reads LINCOLN SCHOOL 1921 and lists the members of the board of education, the school superintendent, and the principal. The entire building rests on a concrete foundation. The rear of the building repeats the general window pattern of the front. The rear also has an entrance to a basement-furnace room area and a large chimney accommodating the furnace.

The interior of the building has a central hallway with classrooms opening off of it, plus administrative offices and a library. The main staircase and the floors of the first-floor hallway and classrooms are made of aggregate concrete. The upper-level floors are hardwood. The basement also has a large central hallway that served as a gymnasium before the newer gym was built in 1938. The 1921 building is connected to the 1894 building by a modern one-story steel, glass, and brick addition. This creates the appearance that the 1894 building serves as a wing to the larger high school building.

The third building in the complex, erected in 1938, has a primary block with recessed front corners that contains the main auditorium/gymnasium. A central entrance block projects from the main block, to the rear of which is a two-story wing containing additional classrooms and locker rooms. The entire building rests on a concrete foundation. The decorative elements of the auditorium/gymnasium building are concentrated on the central entrance block where Classical Revival detailing recalls the 1921 building, with both featuring symmetrical fronts embellished in stone and wood. Concrete steps lead up to a recessed doorway that is topped by a broken pediment supported by consoles. This doorway contains a double-paneled door topped by a six-paned transom window. The entrance block is divided into three sections by framed, paired pilasters, and immediately above these, a stone band runs around the three sides of the block. To each side of the entrance there is a multi-paned window topped with a flat wooden hood supported by consoles. The main block of the building contains the auditorium/gymnasium marked by large windows with double-hung, multi-paned sashes, splayed lintels and keystones. (All of the windows now are covered with protective plywood.) The north side also has a central entrance for access from the high school building. A stone band runs along the upper part of the main block and continues on the shorter entrance block as parapet coping. A stone panel centered at the top of the entrance black reads AUDITORIUM. The interior has hardwood floors and yellow glazed brick and concrete block walls. The rear two-story wing has locker rooms on the lower level and classrooms and offices on the second. Details from the main block of the building, such as double-hung, wood sash windows and keystones, are repeated on this wing.

The buildings in the Lincoln School complex have been largely vacant for several years and show such signs of neglect as broken windows and overgrown grounds.