About Evans HHS
The Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society (aka Evans HHS) honors the legacy of Wilson Bruce Evans (1824-1898), Sarah Jane Leary Evans (1829-1898) and their descendants. The Society seeks to situate this legacy in the context of the larger story of Oberlin, Ohio as a historic site in the continuing struggle for Black freedom, racial equality and social justice in America.
A freeborn man of color trained in cabinetmaking in his birthplace of Hillsborough, North Carolina, Wilson Bruce Evans moved north to Oberlin in 1854 with his wife Sarah Jane Leary, his older brother Henry and Henry’s wife Henrietta Leary—Sarah Jane’s sister—and their children. Upon their arrival, the Evans brothers promptly opened a cabinetmaking establishment and joined the community’s multiracial abolitionist movement. In 1858 they both participated in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, which liberated the freedom seeker John Price from slave hunters. For their efforts, the Evans brothers and their fellow Rescuers spent three months in jail in Cleveland awaiting trial for violation of the federal Fugitive Slave Law. In 1859 Sarah Jane and Henrietta’s brother Lewis Sheridan Leary joined with their sister Delilah’s son John Anthony Copeland in John Brown’s Raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. During the Civil War, Wilson Bruce Evans enlisted in the Union army.
Wilson Bruce and Sarah Jane Leary Evans raised five children to adulthood, including Sarah Jane, an 1890 graduate of Oberlin College who married Thomas Sewall Inborden. The Inbordens were educators, and in 1895 they organized—and he became the first principal of—the Joseph Keasbey Brick Agricultural, Industrial and Normal School, a school for African Americans in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. The family regularly spent summers in Oberlin, however, and in 1941 ownership of the Wilson Bruce Evans House passed to Sarah Jane and Thomas’s daughter Dorothy Inborden Miller, also an educator. Dorothy was an astute custodian of the family legacy, and under her stewardship the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. In 1997, soon after her death, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.
Today the Evans house at 33 East Vine Street sports an early twentieth-century front porch and a deteriorating rear addition of uncertain vintage, but the brick core of the house is in good condition; its interior still displays the superb woodwork made and installed by Wilson Bruce Evans and his brother in the mid nineteenth-century. By establishing the Evans HHS in January 2021, the descendants of Wilson Bruce Evans and Sarah Jane Leary Evans have joined with Oberlin residents to restore the house for use by current and future generations as a museum and community educational resource.
Standing across the street from Martin Luther King Park, the Evans Home looks out on monuments to the Oberlin-Wellington Rescuers, the Harpers Ferry Martyrs, and the Tuskegee Airmen, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. By 2022 the Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society hopes to welcome the public into this beautiful building to learn more about a remarkable Black family and the history of the struggle for racial justice in this community and across the United States.