Lane College is a small school that is big on history. Located in Jackson, TN, lane dates back nearly 140 years, having started in 1882. Located just northeast of downtown Jackson, Lane has a unique campus vibe. During my July visit this year, the temperature was soaring, but everyone I met was friendly and told me about the school and their love for it. Total enrollment at the college was just under 1,300 students (FTE) during the last academic year. If you are interested in learning more about Lane, they have a great synopsis of their history online here. The heart of the campus, the original 4.7 acre grounds, is the Lane College Historic District, which was designated part of National Register of Historic Places in 1987. One of seven Historically Black College's and Universities in Tennessee, Lane is one of only two HBCU's in the western part of the state (the other being LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis).
There is no better way to start this entry than with photographs of the statue of the man for whom the institution is named. The statue of Bishop Isaac Lane stands in front of the James A. Bray Administration Building facing Lane Avenue. The statue was installed in 2018, the gift of alumnus Dr. LaSimba Gray, Jr.
Isaac Lane was born into slavery in 1834 on a plantation in Madison County, Tennessee. In 1853, he married Frances Boyce, a fellow slave from nearby Haywood County. They would go on to have twelve children, including James F. Lane who would be the institution’s third and longest serving president. Lane would become a pastor in the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (CME; now the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church) after the Civil War and he was elected Bishop of the church in 1873. At an annual conference of the church in Nashville in 1878, the Reverend J.K. Daniels proposed the establishment of a church-affiliated school. A committee established to pursue the idea was hindered by the 1878 outbreak of Yellow Fever in the state which spread from Memphis. Memphis had several major outbreaks of the disease prior, in 1855, 1867, and 1873, each worse than the one before. The 1878 outbreak was massive, ripping through nearby Memphis and killing upwards 200 people per day. The outbreak subsided when the cooler fall weather arrived in October, but little progress would be made on the development of the school until 1879. By this time, Lane chaired the annual CME conference, and was instrumental in planning the school. He purchased the initial four acres of land for the school at a price of $250 (about $6,792 today). What was initially called the CME High School opened its doors on November 12, 1884. Lane’s daughter Jennie served in the dual role of first teacher and principal. In recognition for his work, the name would be changed to the Lane Institute in 1884 in his honor. College coursework was developed in 1896 and the institution received its current name, Lane College, to reflect the change in status.
The James A. Bray Administration Building stands at the heart of the campus and is dominant feature there. The building was designed by local architect Reuben A. Heavner (1875-1940), who also designed the Southern Hotel in Jackson. The building is named for Reverend James Albert Bray, the second president of Lane. Bray would serve as president from 1903 to 1907, and it was during his time at the helm that the building was constructed. The cornerstone has the date as November 9, 1905. It was called the Administration Building when it opened, and would not be named in honor of Bray until 1982. A significant renovation would be completed in 1997 at a cost of $2.2 million (about $3,724,182 in 2021). Below are several takes of the front of the building. The front façade faces south looking on to Lane Avenue. I love the top of the columns as seen in the sixth and seventh photos. On the sides of the building, facing east and west, are doorways with a lovely brick ornamentation as seen in the ninth photo. The inside is fabulous and restored to look as good as new. The last three photos were taken just inside the building, with the staircases on either side of the entrance.
Next to Bray is T.F. Saunders Hall. The building stands just to the east of Bray. Saunders is named for Reverend Thomas F. Saunders, the first president of the institution. Saunders was an Episcopal minister who was personally selected by Isaac Lane to lead the school as it transitioned from a high school to a college. Saunders was chosen, in part, because he was white and it was thought that selecting a white person would politically aid the school in the transition to college status. The first photo is the front façade of Saunders facing Lane Avenue. An entrance on the right side of the structure has been closed off for some time. The building opened in 1909 and underwent a renovation in 1992. The second photo is a sidewalk which was a gift of the Libertas Voci Society, class of 1927. I would wager there were few paved sidewalks on campus when they donated the funds for its creation. Saunders is currently home to foreign languages, art, and communications.
Across the street from the Bray Administration Building on the southern side of Lane Avenue is the Chambers-McClure Academic Center (CMAC) seen in the first photo below. The multipurpose building houses the library, an auditorium, classrooms, and labs. It is named for former Lane College presidents Alex A. Chambers (the eight president who served in the role from 1986 to 1992) and Wesley McClure (the ninth president serving from 1992 to 2013). The building was completed at a cost of $5.2 million in 1997 (about $8.8 million today).
The last three photos are of J.K. Daniels Hall. The building is named in honor of Reverend J.K. Daniels who first proposed the creation of the school, . As you can see in the last photo, there is a plaque on the building which no doubt outlines its history. I looked for the plaque by the front door and just inside the building (typical locations for such things) and didn’t find it. I missed these and didn’t even notice them in the picture until a day after my visit. As such, I don’t know anything about the history of the building. Daniels is notable in that it faces the Bray Building and not the street. You can discern this from the second photo which was taken from Lane Avenue. The last photo was taken on a walkway between Bray and Daniels looking westward. Daniels houses the office of institutional research, advancement, and a variety of other administrative support offices. I love the brickwork arches over the entryway and windows.
The set below begins with three photos of N.C. Cleaves Hall. Cleaves is a women’s dorm which is located just east of Saunders Hall. The building is named for Rev Nelson Caldwell “N.C.” Cleaves. Cleaves married Jennie Lane, daughter of founder Isaac Lane. Cleaves was one of five in the inaugural class graduating from Lane in 1887. He would go on to be a Bishop in the CME Church and member and chair of the Lane Board of Trustees. The building was completed in 1927 and faces south toward Lane Avenue. The Cleaves Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Columbia, South Carolina is also named in his honor. I'm not sure what the bell monument, see in the second photo, is about. It sits in front of Cleaves Hall. I didn't see a sign for it, but it was really hot the day of my visit and I may have overlooked it. The last photo is of J.A. Hamlett Hall, another women’s dormitory that sits just east of Cleaves. Completed in 1971, it has that plain box appearance of many buildings of that era. As such, it is not nearly as notable as Cleaves, although the lattice work and the front entrance steps do add character. I was unable to find any information about the name or the construction of the building.
The first photo below is the James F. Lane Health and Physical Education Building. Named for the third president and son of the founder of the college. It was built during the presidency of Herman Stone, Jr., which places its construction sometime between 1970 and 1986, although I have not found the exact date for it. It houses an Olympic size pool, a weight room and exercise equipment, a gym, and classrooms. Finally, a photo of a smokestack from the 1909 central heating facility. I love the brickwork spelling out Lane. The building is no longer used for steam production, and plans call for it to be developed into a museum and visitor’s center.
University Grounds is a blog about college and university campuses, their buildings and grounds, and the people who live and work on them.
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