National Park Service awards Wilson Bruce Evans Home “Save America’s Treasures” Grant for $283,250
The Wilson Bruce Evans House at 33 East Vine Street in Oberlin, Ohio, a rare, surviving example of a residence built and occupied a Black abolitionist and Underground Railroad operative, has just received $283,250 from the National Park Service’s “Save America’s Treasures” program toward its rehabilitation as a museum and educational center open to the public. Among the 80 projects funded this year, the Evans House is the only Ohio site to be funded.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997 by the US Secretary of the Interior, the Evans House stands out from most of the other 2,600 so designated for being among the 2% primarily associated with African American history,
The Evans House story is rooted in the African American struggle for freedom and justice. Born in 1824 in North Carolina, a free man of color trained in carpentry, Wilson Bruce Evans decided in 1854 to escape from increasingly difficult conditions for Blacks in the south. Migrating with his family, his brother’s family and friends, he chose Oberlin, drawn by its thriving interracial community, its outspoken commitment to racial equality, and family ties— a sister’s family had arrived earlier. Once in Oberlin, Wilson and brother Henry built a sturdy Italianate house, adorning its parlors with elegant arched double doors and a carefully detailed stairway. They also immersed themselves in the vibrant abolitionist politics that made Oberlin a national center of the antislavery movement.
The Evans brothers became central to Oberlin’s African American activism. Family tradition tells of Wilson’s hiding freedom seekers in his house, and both brothers were among those jailed for liberating freedom seeker John Price in the 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. In 1859, Wilson’s nephew John Copeland and his brother-in-law Lewis Leary became martyrs in the Harpers Ferry Uprising. During the Civil War, Evans enlisted in the Union Army. After his death in 1898, ownership of the house passed through his son to his granddaughter, who died in 1996.
In 2021, Evans heirs joined with leaders of the Oberlin African-American Genealogy and History Group (OAAGHG), the Oberlin Heritage Center (OHC) and retired Oberlin College faculty to form the Evans Home Historical Society, which took ownership of the property and began this rehabilitation.
With guidance from architects at Robert P. Madison International led by Sandra Madison, and from Naylor Wellman Historic Preservation Consulting, and working closely with the City of Oberlin, OHC and OAAGHG, the Evans Home Historical Society developed a phased plan for its rehabilitation. This year, grants from the Nord Family Foundation, the Nordson Corporation Foundation and the Bill Long Foundation funded a new roof, reinstallation of electric service, and new HVAC system. A grant from the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office through its Certified Local Government program will fund a restoration of a Civil War-era stoop and entryway. A grant from the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom will fund ADA access.
The “Save America’s Treasures” grant, which requires the Evans Home Historical Society to raise $1 for each grant dollar received, will fund rehabilitation and reconstruction of the rear wing of the building, masonry repairs on the Italianate core, and restoration of the interiors in conjunction with the installation of interpretive programming.
Once rehabilitation is complete, the Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society will open the building to the public to tell the story of the Evans family, and of all those engaged in the American struggle for racial justice and equality.
“We’re over the moon with joy,” reported Dr. Doris Hughes-Moore, President of the Evans Home Historical Society and great-great granddaughter of Wilson Bruce Evans, on learning of the award.
This grant will be celebrated at the Second Annual Meeting of the Evans Home Historical Society, to be held this coming Saturday, September 17, from 11 am to 1 pm, in Oberlin’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Park on Vine Street, across the street from the Evans House. The meeting is free and open to the public. The celebration will include awards to Heritage Guardians and Legacy Guardians, and will honor National Teacher of the Year Kurt Russell for his commitment to teaching about Oberlin’s African American history. Camille Hamlin Allen will make an appearance as Mrs. Sarah Jane Leary Evans (1828-1898), the woman who made the Evans House a home. The Park includes monuments to the Oberlin-Wellington Rescuers and to the Oberlin martyrs at Harpers Ferry, Evans’ relatives Lewis Sheridan Leary and John A. Copeland.
For more information, email Carol Lasser at [email protected] or call 440-935-2998
Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society Awarded Network to Freedom Grant
The Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society is proud to announce that we have been awarded a Network to Freedom Grant! These grants, funded by the 400 Years of African American History Commission and administered by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, will help preserve Underground Railroad history across the country. To learn more, check out this news release: https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/ntf-grant-awards-2022.htm
First Annual Meeting of Evans Home Historical Society, September 18, 2021, draws Abolitionist Descendants back to Oberlin
One hundred sixty-three years—and five days—after African American abolitionist Wilson Bruce Evans joined the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, risking his own liberty to emancipate captured freedom seeker John Price, more than two dozen of his descendants will return to Oberlin. On Saturday, September 18, 2021, at 11 am, they will join residents and other champions of African American history in Oberlin’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, across from the house Evans built, where they will celebrate the First Annual Meeting of the Evans Home Historical Society, a nonprofit founded in January 2021.
The Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society will restore for use as a museum and educational resource the sturdy home built by this freeborn carpenter in 1856 for his family when they moved from North Carolina. As a result his defiance, Evans spent three months in the Cuyahoga County Jail awaiting trial for violating the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law; he returned to his home unbowed, and continued harbor in it people seeking escape from enslavement. The Society intends to honor Evans and the efforts of all those who continue to struggle for Black freedom, equality and racial justice. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and named a National Historic Landmark by the National Parks Service in 1997, the house has been unoccupied for the last quarter century. While in need of restoration inside and out, the home is testimony to the longstanding vision of its builder and his descendants who have carefully safeguarded its treasures, including original furniture, photographs and portraits.
On display on September 18 will be plans for the restored Evans Home, envisioned as a focal point and destination for community members, students, and tourists from all over the world who are interested in understanding how Black abolitionists in this small town in the vanguard of the antislavery struggle worked, thought, raised families and stood up for emancipation and African American empowerment. The day’s program will include remarks by Evans descendants Dr. Doris Hughes-Moore and Nina Grooms Lee as well as greetings from the National Park Service and from the Hillsborough Historical Commission in the North Carolina town where Evans was born. Two “Legacy Guardians” will be honored—Oberlin historians Dr. Margaret Christian and Thelma Quinn Smith, both of whom worked with the last resident of the house, Dorothy Inborden Miller, to insure recognition of the historical significance of the building, its contents, and the family.
Oberlin’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, holds monuments for the Oberlin-Wellington Rescuers as well as Oberlin’s citizens martyred in John Brown’s Raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859—Evans’ nephew John A. Copeland, and Evans’ brother-in-law Lewis Sheridan Leary.
Members of the public are invited to attend—and to join the Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society as founding members for $10. For more information, please see evanshhs.org or contact [email protected].
Restoring 165-Year-Old Home to Honor Oberlin African American Abolitionist
On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, the newly formed Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society strode a giant step closer toward its goal of opening the Civil War-era home of this African American abolitionist as an historic site and educational resource that honors Evans and the efforts of those who continue the struggle for Black freedom, racial equality and social justice.
After a presentation by Charles Hall from the Cleveland-based firm City Architecture, the City of Oberlin Historic Preservation Commission voted to issue the Evans Home Historical Society a “Certificate of Appropriateness” for plans to rehabilitate the house at 33 East Vine Street. The plans include restoration of a Civil-War era front porch and replacement of the badly deteriorating rear addition with historically appropriate new construction for use as an educational resource with accessible entrance.
Formed in January 2021, the Wilson Bruce Evans Home Historical Society brings together Oberlin residents with interests in African American history and descendants of Wilson Bruce Evans, a free man of color born in North Carolina who moved to Oberlin in 1854, where he built the home that still stands today. According to family lore, the Evans family hid freedom seekers in the basement and attic of the house; in 1858 Wilson Bruce Evans joined in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue securing freedom for self-emancipated John Price. His nephew John Anthony Copeland and his brother-in-law Lewis Sheridan Leary participated in John Brown’s Harpers Ferry uprising.
Evans Home Historical Society Trustee and founder of the Oberlin African American Genealogical and Historical Group (OAAGHG) Phyllis Yarber Hogan recently explained, “I am overjoyed that the Wilson Bruce Evans family home, built by and for African Americans at the forefront in the battle for our freedom, will now stand as a site for all children to learn about the contributions of Black men and women to the history of Oberlin and our entire county.”
Plans for the building and its grounds will be on display at the First Annual Meeting of the Evans Home Historical Society, scheduled for11 am, Saturday, September 18, 2021 at Oberlin’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, across the street from the home on East Vine Street (rain location at nearby House of the Lord Fellowship Church at 125 South Pleasant Street. Trustees, including Evans descendants, will celebrate progress on restoring the house. Membership in the Society is open to all.
Founding memberships in the Evans Home Historical Society, priced at $10, are available up to and including the annual meeting. The Evans Home Historical Society is a nonprofit charitable organization and can receive tax-deductible contributions. To join, support, or receive more information, write the Evans Home Historical Society at P.O. Box 284, Oberlin, OH 44074 or email [email protected].