When traveling through Vandalia, Missouri, and history’s your passion, stop by the historic Lincoln School building.
Lincoln School is located at 301 Lincoln Street in Audrain County, Missouri. The two-story rectangular building was constructed in 1927. From 1927 to 1955, it was primarily a school for African-American children until the integration of public schools was mandated. On February 16, 1996, this structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
The foundation is concrete, the walls are brick, and the stairs to the second floor was made of concrete. This building replaced a one-room building and was used for African-American students in Vandalia.
At the time the building was nominated for the NRHP, the windows were broken and boarded up. Some of the originality still included doors and some chalkboards. The first-floor restrooms had original wash basins and toilet facilities. The cafeteria had its original sink. The stairway had the original handrail. Original woodwork was in place as well as coat hooks in the closets, and the original school bell.
During the 1960s, the school was a recreational facility for teenagers. When the school was originally built, it was one of three schools in Vandalia. The architect of the school is unknown. The construction and brick were provided by the Walsh Company. The land for the school was donated by the owners of a local pharmacy.
Separate school systems
After the Civil War, the law in Missouri in 1865 provided for education for African-Americans, just like for any other student except for the fact it had to be accommodated in a separate facility. It was a crime to mix races in schools in 1889. Until the 1950s, Missouri had two separate systems for schools.
While school records have been lost or destroyed, it’s believed for that period of time, the building was an unusually large black school. The Lincoln School was also used to house social and church functions to provide space the two African-American churches didn't have.
When the school first opened, it contained grades one through 12. By 1937, it went to the eighth grade with high school students bussed to Garfield High School in Mexico, Missouri.
In 1954, Vandalia’s high school was integrated with 14 enrolled African-American students. A motivating factor to bring an end to segregation in the higher grades was a way to save money on bussing students to the Mexico, Missouri high school. In 1955, the elementary grades were integrated.
The Lincoln School was one of the largest schools in a Missouri small town to serve African-American students. This building had four classrooms that educated both elementary and high school students. Interestingly, this building also had a stage and auditorium that could accommodate 131 people.
After segregation ended, the school was abandoned. Eventually, the school was acquired by the Concerned Citizens to Save Lincoln School, Inc., which was organized in 1994. This is a non-profit organization with its main office at 301 Lincoln Street, Vandalia, Missouri (also the address of the historic property).
This school building is the last historic African-American school building that’s still standing in Audrain County. In August 2022, it was reported in the Mexico Ledger that one of the board members of Concerned Citizens was in one of the last first-grade classes at Lincoln School. The building is still in the process of being restored.
Vandalia is in northeastern Audrain County and extends into southeastern Ralls County. According to the 2020 census, the population was 3,553. This also includes the number of prisoners housed in a prison inside the city limits. The prison is the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center.
The portion of Vandalia’s population listed in Audrain County is part of the Mexico, Missouri micropolitan statistical area and the portion of Vandalia’s population in Ralls County is part of the Hannibal, Missouri micropolitan statistical area.
Vandalia was platted in 1871 and named after Vandalia, Illinois. The post office has been operating since that year. This city is located on US Route 54 and is around 15 miles from Bowling Green, Missouri. It’s also not far from Hannibal or the Mississippi River.
Thanks for reading.