Graves Hall

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Graves HallDesignated: Landmark Building Exterior
December 23, 1991

830 Westview Dr., SW
Fronting on a private drive approximately 600' south of the southeast corner of Fair Street and James P. Brawley Drive
District 14, Land Lot 109
Fulton County, City of Atlanta
Existing Zoning OI

Constructed: 1889
Architect: Unknown

Graves Hall is located on the campus of Morehouse College bounded by Ashby Street on the south, Fair Street on the east, Brawley Street on the north and Westview Street on the west. Historically the building is an excellent example of Victorian college buildings similar to those that sprang up on college campuses throughout the country in the late 1800s. Graves Hall served as an all-purpose building on Morehouse campus as well as being the first building on campus. The American Baptist Home Mission Society of New York established Morehouse College in Augusta in 1867 and named the school Augusta Institute. Upon moving to Atlanta in 1879, the school was temporarily located in the basement of the Friendship Baptist Church and the name of the school was changed to Atlanta Baptist Seminary. In 1888, the institution acquired fourteen acres at the corner of Fair and Ashby Streets at a cost of $7,500. This property, located on a hilltop, was where Fort Whitehall, a key Confederate fortification, stood and from which the Confederate army resisted Union soldiers during the siege of Atlanta. It was not until 1913 that the name of the school became Morehouse College, in honor of Reverend Henry Lyman Morehouse, D.D., Corresponding Secretary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.


Graves Hall is a four-story, red brick structure with a granite basement. An open bell tower under a pyramidal roof accents the central bay of the five part plan. The entry porch features a heavy, rusticated stone arch supported by truncated Romanesque columns. Double front doors with a semi-circular fanlight fill a round, arched opening surrounded by a brick archivolt. The building exhibits the typical High Victorian mixture of facade materials and ornamental details, including terra-cotta panels, pigmented brick panels and eave brackets. A wood porch with spool-work extends across one wing of the front facade.


When founded as Augusta Institute, the future Morehouse College aimed to train preachers and related teachers. From 1871 to 1878, the Institute had 245 students, 150 of whom were preparing for the ministry. By the 1880s when the Institute relocated to Atlanta, it faced the daunting challenge of educating poor students with widely varying degrees of preparation. As a result, the school was divided into "preparatory," "normal," and "theology" divisions. The "preparatory" provided basic education while the "normal" was a college prep/high school. Under President Samuel Graves, the curriculum was expanded from five to eight years to provide more basic education and instructors were increased from three to seven.

In the 1890s, President George Sale worked to regularize and systematize the normal school courses which had been hampered before by high teacher turnover. He also began to add college course work. Poverty was still a major problem and students aged fourteen to thirty all worked around the school for $.08 an hour to defray their college board. President Sale's program was successful, however, and the school became a college in 1897. At the same time, the college had developed a strong endowment and in the early twentieth century, enrollment rose to 413 students with eighteen faculty members.

One particular aspect of Morehouse during this period foreshadowed events of great significance in the 1920s and 1930s. This was the close cooperation between Morehouse and Spelman Seminary-College. The all-female Spelman was physically close and this helped promote other cooperative efforts and activities. From 1884 to 1913, Morehouse and Spelman held joint commencements for instance. In subsequent decades, all the early black colleges in Atlanta would unite into the Atlanta University Center, with Atlanta University, Spelman and Morehouse leading the way in 1929.

The clustering of these institutions for black education on the western limits of Atlanta had a marked influence on the city's growth. Residential suburbs began to grown up around Atlanta University and its neighbors. One of the earliest of these was the Beaver Slide area, but others soon followed, such as Arlington Heights (1900); subdivisions by Asa Candler (1905) and Ware and Harper (1906); Sunset Park (1912) and Simpson Heights(1914). Black entrepreneur Heman Perry established his Service Realty Company to subdivide, finance, construct, and sell lots for middle class, bungalow-style homes in the 1920s. Perry's company also built Booker T. Washington Junior-Senior High School for blacks (1924) and was instrumental in gaining Washington Park as the first public park for blacks. Meanwhile, streetcar lines were connecting all this development to the center city.

In the 1930s and later, the Atlanta University Center led the movement for slum clearance and public housing in its neighborhood. The results included University Homes and John Hope Homes. Eventually the land around Atlanta University was designated an urban renewal district. This caused the loss of many homes to "renewal" and the consequences are debatable in terms of their benefit, but the original, and undoubtedly admirable, goals of the University Center had been better housing, parks and a mixed economic populace.


Graves Hall, the oldest building on Morehouse College Campus, is a four-story, red brick building located on the western end of the Atlanta University quadrangle. This was the main building on the campus, built in 1889, with sixty rooms. It was a multi-purpose structure with forty-five rooms set aside as dormitory accommodations. The rest of it housed administrative offices, a chapel with a bell tower, the English Preparatory School, the president's residence, a dining hall, kitchen, laundry and printing office. Graves Hall was the center of college life at Morehouse, then named Atlanta Baptist Seminary.

The property for Graves Hall or the Main Building was acquired in April 1888, by Samuel Graves, the second president of Atlanta Baptist Seminary. Graves was able to raise money for the building and property by appealing to white Northerners in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Michigan and by obtaining donations from black Georgia Baptists. In February 1889, the contract for the construction of the building was approved and the work began in April 1889. By May 25, 1889, the cornerstone was laid during the annual meeting of the Missionary Baptists Convention in Georgia. This was also commencement day. The Main Building, its official name, was completed, on schedule, November 1, 1889, at a cost of $27,000. An additional $6,000 was needed to equip the building with steam heating, to furnish dormitory quarters and to buy equipment necessary for the boarding department, the big hall and other miscellaneous items bringing the total cost of the land purchase, construction and furnishings to $40,000.

In 1887, the college was renamed the Atlanta Baptist College and in 1898, the Main Building was rededicated and renamed Graves Hall, after Samuel Graves, president of the college from 1885 to 1890, "in recognition of monumental services for the erection of the new college building and also for the endowment of the President's Chair". (Benjamin Brawley, History of Morehouse College, p. 98).

Also in 1898, a new building was constructed on campus to accommodate the expanding enrollment. More dormitory space was needed, so the main floor of Graves Hall was converted to dorm space and the English Preparatory School was moved to Quarles Hall, the newest building. By 1916, there were five buildings on campus which now covered most of the original fourteen-acre tract.

During the next seventy-five years, Graves Hall went from an all-purpose classroom, dormitory, administration and chapel building to strictly a freshman dorm. The old chapel has been converted into a lobby and the bell tower, deemed unsafe in the 1970s, is closed. The bell was moved to the ROTC yard. Through the decades, Graves Hall served as a community center to the neighborhood around the college campus. Poor neighborhood children took showers in the Hall's bathrooms and ate in Graves' dining hall. The basement cafeteria has now been converted into a study hall. There were several famous people who either lived in or studied at Graves Hall, including civil rights leader and 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; movie director, Spike Lee; Health and Human Services Director, Dr. Louis Sullivan; Olympic gold medalist, Edwin Moses; first black mayor of Atlanta and current mayor, Maynard Jackson; Ebony magazine editor, Lorone Bennet; and Jet magazine editor, Robert Johnson. (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, February 14, 1989, "Hallowed Hall - At Morehouse College a century of memories"). In 1983, the firm of Leon Allain and Associates and Morehouse College were honored with an Award of Excellence by the Urban Design Commission for the restoration of Graves Hall. This restoration was exterior only, returning the windows, grouting and side porch to their original state based on photographic evidence. Lack of funds precluded the planned interior restoration.

In September, 1991, the U. S. Interior Department began a multi-million dollar project to restore some of the oldest buildings at the nation's historically black colleges and universities. Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan announced this project during a visit to the Atlanta University Center, site of three of the 11 most significant buildings in most need of repair. Graves Hall was included on the Secretary's list for survey of conditions and repair.


Atlanta Constitution, September 10, 1991, "Rescuing the Past - 3 Local Buildings on Save List".

Atlanta Journal and Constitution, February 14, 1989, "Hallowed Hall - At Morehouse College, a century of memories".

Brawley, Benjamin. History of Morehouse College, Atlanta, 1917.

Crimmins, Timothy. "Bungalow Suburbs: East and West," The Atlanta Historical Journal. XXVI #2-3 (Summer-Fall 1982), 83-94.

Jones, Edward. A Candle in the Dark, A History of Morehouse College, Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1967.

Kuhn, Clifford; Harlon Joye and E. Bernard West. Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948. Atlanta: The Atlanta Historical Society, 1990.

Nomination form National Register of Historic Places Inventory, November 1973.

Taylor, Arnold. Travail and Triumph. Black Life and Culture in the South Since the Civil War. Greenwood Press: Westport, 1976.

Warner, Mildred. Community Building: The History of Atlanta University Neighborhoods. City of Atlanta, 1978.

(criteria descriptions)

Group I (1) (2) (3)
Group II (1) (3) (6) (7) (9) (10) (11)
Group III (1) (2) (3)


The proposed nomination of Graves Hall meets the above referenced criteria, as well as the minimum criteria, for a Landmark Building or Site as set out in Section 16-20.004 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta.

Contact Info
City of Atlanta
Atlanta Urban Design Commission
55 Trinity Avenue, Suite 3400
Atlanta, Georgia 30335-0331

Tel: 404.330.6200
Fax: 404.658.6734
Doug Young


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