The Oaks The Oaks is the former home and president’s office of Booker T. Washington, first president of the Tuskegee Institute (present-day Tuskegee University), located in Tuskegee, Macon County. Tuskegee faculty member Robert Robinson Taylor designed the home, which was completed in 1900. In 1925, the home was purchased by the Tuskegee Institute and transferred to the National Park Service in 1974, becoming part of the larger Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site.
In 1875, after graduating from the Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in Virginia, Washington spent the next six years teaching grade school in Malden, Virginia. In 1881, he was invited to become the president of the newly established Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, which would become Tuskegee University. The school opened its doors on July 4, 1881, with a curriculum that focused on academic and skills-based education for men and women. Washington’s aim was to teach African Americans skills so they could find employment in trades that would move them out of poverty. As part of their education, students built the Tuskegee campus from the ground up by making bricks, building classrooms, barns, and outbuildings, growing crops, and raising livestock.
Booker T. Washington For years, Washington lived in a modest frame house on the campus. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie and another wealthy benefactor who were friends with Washington funded the construction of a much more substantial home for him and his wife and children to relieve Washington of the worry about his family’s future should something happen to him. The new home was designed by Tuskegee faculty member Robert Robinson Taylor, the first accredited African American architect and first African American graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Construction, which began in 1899, was carried out by students from the Tuskegee Institute, who had also built many of the structures on the campus itself. Fellow Tuskegee faculty member George Washington Carver may have developed the paint colors that decorated the rooms.
The three-story, 7,800-square-foot Queen-Anne Revival home has high ceilings and a wrap-around porch. Its 14 rooms include a parlor, library, dining room, den, kitchen, breakfast room, family room, guest rooms, five bathrooms, and a veranda that was surrounded by three acres of gardens, orchards, and pastures. It was the first home in Macon County to feature steam heating, electricity, and indoor plumbing. Most of its furnishings were built by local craftsmen and students. During the 25th anniversary celebration of the Tuskegee Institute in 1906, the home welcomed prominent dignitaries including future president William Howard Taft, who was then secretary of war, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Harvard president Charles W. Eliot, and Pres. Theodore Roosevelt.
School on Wheels Washington spent the remaining years of his life as the president of Tuskegee. After his death in 1915, his wife Margaret continued to live in the home until her death in 1925. Tuskegee then purchased the home. In 1974, it was transferred to the National Park Service as part of the newly created Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, which also includes the George Washington Carver Museum and many buildings on the campus of Tuskegee University. The home stands today much as it did during Washington’s tenure and includes original and acquired period furniture.
Each year, The Oaks welcomes approximately 25,000 visitors. It is open Monday-Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and offers free ranger-guided tours at various times. As a National Historic Site, admission is free. Near the Tuskegee National Historic Site are the Tuskegee Airmen Historic Site at Moton Field, which honors the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, and Tuskegee National Forest.