Historic GSU District features dominant Colonial Revival architecture

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From 1939 to 1960, Grambling State University was the only institution of higher learning accessible to African Americans in northern Louisiana.

During this period, the first buildings of the current campus were constructed. In 2010, these buildings were named to the National Register of Historic Places as part of a historic district.

The Grambling State University Historic District includes 21 buildings of varying styles, the most dominant being Colonial Revival. Buildings are almost invariably red brick with some sort of light colored trim, usually painted wood, painted concrete, cast stone, or light gray limestone.

The campus is located on a modest more or less flat plateau amidst the gently rolling landscape of central Lincoln Parish. The university’s campus is anchored by a long, grassy academic quadrangle that spans two east-west blocks and one north-south block. Eight of the buildings in the historic district face the double quad, with the rest generally located to the south. A system of streets runs along the edge of the double quad, between the quad and the two buildings.

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Long-Jones Hall, which was built in 1939, is historically the main building on campus. The building dominates the quad from its western end with a colossal axially placed portico – a slight touch of the City Beautiful Movement architectural type. Another red brick building with a colossal portico was located at the eastern end of the double quadrangle. This building has been demolished. In its place are modern dormitories.

Overall, the historic core of the campus is quite open, with some of the larger buildings having some semblance of land, but the buildings are not widely dispersed. Several buildings can be observed in the same view. The historic core of the campus gains some additional unity through common building materials and a consistent scale. GSU’s historic district also stands out from the more modern, nearly windowless concrete and brick educational buildings on the outskirts of campus.

The organization of the university began when the Farmers Relief Association wrote to Tuskegee University educator Booker T. Washington for advice on a school they were trying to start. Washington sent one of his students, Charles P. Adams, a native of Brusly, Louisiana, who arrived at Lincoln Parish on August 4, 1901. Adams’ mission was to establish an industrial and vocational school on the same model as Tuskegee .

Classes opened on November 1, 1901 in a two-story wood frame building as the Colored Industrial and Agricultural School.

There were three teachers, all Tuskegee graduates, and 125 students. Local Baptists attempted to take over the school in 1903, and eventually Adams decided to start a new school on the current site. The Agricultural and Industrial Institute of North Louisiana began in the fall of 1905 in space loaned by a local church. Soon after, two wood frame buildings were erected with classes up to ninth grade.

Brown Hall is a contributing feature of the Grambling State University Historic District.  A large and imposing two-storey red brick building is a former dormitory that ends in a colossal central portico with a Tuscan pediment.  The tympanum has a cornice with modillions and an oculus in the center.  The vast hipped roof is pierced with ventilated dormers and a modillion cornice.

The school will evolve until the middle of the 20th century. Under Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones, the university’s second president, buildings in the Historic District were constructed in two waves: 1939 and the 1950s. The four 1939 buildings, the original core of the current campus, were constructed with funding from the New Deal Public Works Administration. The major building program of the 1950s, which ended in 1960, was part of an effort to move towards equal accommodation in higher education.

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Over the years, the school has become loosely known as Grambling, after the small community where it is located. By the end of 1960, enrollment was 2,724. In 1974, after a succession of names, the school became known as Grambling State University.

GSU President Rick Gallot said those who grew up in the Grambling community, as well as those who have attended or visited the campus, know how important the university is and how beautiful the campus is.

“Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places signifies recognition by our country of the significant contributions our university has made not only to our region, but also to our parish, state, region, and country. We are proud of GSU’s historic contributions and we will make even greater contributions in the years to come.”

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