One Hundred Years ago, tomorrow, a very important event took place in Troy; an affair that marked the beginning of an institution that would impact the lives of many people throughout the community, and even beyond. I am speaking about the very ‘birth’ of what became the Lincoln Community Center.
The Lincoln Community Center was originally envisioned as a place where the black residents of Troy could gather for social, educational, spiritual and recreational activities. For years it has made a difference in many lives. Although it is still one of the keystones of the African-American community in Troy, the center has grown beyond its original vision and has become a ‘home’ to people from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds and walks of life. But, let me get back to our event of 100 years ago.
Soon after the Civil War, a small school building was constructed on what later became out Lot 92, just southwest of the St. James A.M.E. Church. The school was constructed for the purpose of providing a place for educating the black children of Troy. It was appropriately named after the late President Abraham Lincoln.
The school was active for approximately 25 years, but was later abandoned after the city schools were integrated. The old building was then used for general storage for many years.
Sometime in 1915 or 1916, the Miami Athletics, a black semi-pro football team based in Troy, requested permission to use the building as a changing room and the surrounding grounds for a practice field.
Perhaps, the idea that the old structure could be used for something other than storage initiated some thinking in the community and sparked a dream. Whatever the catalyst, on a cloudy Friday evening in the late spring of 1916, a small committee of black residents attended the Troy Board of Education meeting with a request. The citizens sought permission to convert the old school building into a community hall and the surrounding grounds into a playground for the benefit of the African-American community. The group assured the board that they would form an association to oversee the operation of the center and ensure everything was conducted properly.
The school board, according to the news account, seemed favorable to the idea, but noted they would also need the support of the council and the city. In the meantime, a committee to research and facilitate the process was formed and headed up by longtime Troy physician J.W. Means.
The school board, city council and all involved ultimately gave approval to the plan and soon work was underway to resurrect the old edifice to a useable condition. The structure was cleaned and restored and a new vestibule was added to the front of the building. By late August, plans had been formulated by the new Lincoln Community Association and all was underway for a grand event on Labor Day, 1916.
What a Grand Opening celebration took place on September 4th. City officials, community leaders and other special guests were invited and included in the ceremonies, which began at 10 am and lasted into the evening hours. Brown’s Orchestra was brought in from Dayton to provide music for the better part of the day and a large dinner was prepared and laid out, which could be enjoyed for 25 cents.
Besides Mayor Clay Harmon, Superintendent C.W. Cookson and Dr. J.W. Means sharing their thoughts and best wishes on the occasion, the day was brightened by three special guest speakers, who were all well-versed in providing places of care and education for African-Americans.
Rev. D.H.V. Purnell, former pastor at Richards Chapel United Methodist Church (1914-1915), returned to congratulate the men and women of the community for their accomplishment and work in preparing a place where children and adults of the black community could socialize, learn, and enjoy games.
Prior to coming to Troy, Rev. Purnell had been the superintendent of an educational and care home black children in Xenia. He also had been a director of a facility for dependent and needy black children in Harvey, Illinois.
Dr. Edward L. Gilliam, born in Canada and a child of former slaves, had worked hard to earn an education and eventually graduated from Oberlin College and became a Methodist minister. The newspaper of the day described him as, “One of the most eloquent black orators in Ohio.” He spoke on the responsibility before the black people of Troy. “No person is of any service to a community except he adds to its life for its betterment. No man has a right to prate about his rights unless he adds to the betterment of a community.”
The speaker for the evening was Dr. Elmer W. B. Curry. Dr. Curry was a native Buckeye and was a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan College. As a Baptist minister, he had spent many years preaching the Gospel in several churches, but in January, 1889, he founded the Curry Institute in Urbana, Ohio. He modeled the school after Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He, like Washington, was a strong proponent of educating the individual, but also emphasized what was called “industrial education,” education that is based in life and trades. In other words, if it wasn’t practical to a productive life or work, then it probably wasn’t taught. He also commended the people for bringing the dream of the community center to fruition and the benefit it would be for the people.
Every report indicated that the day was a wonderful celebration with many throughout the whole city and the area in attendance.
The whole purpose of the community center is brought to summation in the life and words of William A. Keelum, president of the Lincoln Community Association and also custodian at the courthouse, “The colored people had found no place to meet when the board of education offered to turn the present building and grounds over to them for a community center.” “The building will be used for recreation and study, a place where colored people can meet to discuss subjects for the uplift of the race, and where entertainments and lectures can be held.”
Except for two short breaks, the Lincoln Community Center has continued from that first day 100 years ago to be a vital part of the Troy community.
Shane Carter, as the director of the center since 2011, has instilled new life into the LCC and brought the center into a full active involvement in Troy. Troy is a better when the center is interested in and involved in the city and LCC is a better place when the city is interested and involved in the center.
As the Lincoln Community Center continues in its mission to educate, give positive recreation opportunities to young people and as a meeting place for so many groups, mostly free of charge, I think Dr. J.W. Means one hundred years ago said it best, “… as your children go out in the world they will ever remember this community center. It will be an inspiration to them in after life. It is the small things of the world that rule the world. A thought is more powerful than a battleship. So the influence of this community center is a thought and you cannot tell how much good it will do and its influences in Troy, the county and State cannot be estimated, as its effects will be forever felt.”
So much of our success today rests on the foundation laid by those individuals many years ago, who did not live to see the fruit of their labor. Did you know that we cannot see the foundation of the old school building-community hall, but it is part of the foundation which the current Lincoln Community Center rests upon? What foundation are you laying, and who will benefit from it?
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to [email protected]