The Oaks The Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, located in Tuskegee, Macon County, commemorates the contributions of the Tuskegee Institute (present-day Tuskegee University) and one of its founders, Booker T. Washington, to the education of African Americans from 1881 to the present day. Because of its far-reaching intellectual influence, cultural heritage, and historical significance, Tuskegee Institute was designated by the National Park Service as a National Historic Site in 1974. It is the only university campus in the country so honored and is located on the campus of Tuskegee University, the private historically black university in Tuskegee. The designation of the site as a national historic landmark is due in large part to the efforts of long-time administrator Bess Bolden Walcott, who led efforts to preserve the works of George Washington Carver and other significant items from the institution. Currently, the National Park Service operates two other facilities in the park: The Oaks, the former home of Booker T. Washington, and the George Washington Carver Museum.
The historic site encompasses some 20 administrative, classroom, dormitory, laboratory, and other university buildings. It also includes the dairy barn site, the former location of an ROTC armory, and Tuskegee Cemetery, where Washington and Carver are buried.
White Hall at Tuskegee University Tuskegee Institute was founded on July 4, 1881, through the efforts of George W. Campbell, a local banker, merchant, and former slave owner, and Lewis Adams, a formerly enslaved man who became an important businessman and leader in Macon County. In 1880, Alabama senator Wilbur F. Foster became acquainted with Adams and wanted to use his influence to win political support from African Americans in Macon County for his reelection. In exchange for this support, Adams and Campbell requested that the senator earmark funds for the establishment of a teacher-training school for African Americans. In 1881, the “Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers” was founded, and Booker T. Washington, from the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia, was hired as the school’s first president.
Originally, the initial space for the school was a shack provided by the nearby Butler Chapel AME Zion Church. Soon, however, the campus was moved to a nearby 100-acre abandoned plantation that would become the nucleus of the current university. Washington quickly implemented a program that included industrial and vocational education to teach freedmen practical skills and new agricultural techniques in order to improve their social and economic position in American society. In 1896, Washington hired George Washington Carver, a botanist and inventor who over the ensuring years proved innovative in the development of new agricultural products and farming techniques. The combination of Washington’s leadership and Carver’s inventive spirit led to the rise of Tuskegee’s standing throughout the country. By the time of Washington’s death in 1915, the Tuskegee Institute had become an icon of African American history.
George Washington Carver Museum The George Washington Carver Museum is housed in a building that was constructed in 1915 as a campus laundry facility. It later became Carver’s laboratory before being converted in 1938 to a museum. It was officially dedicated as the George Washington Carver Museum in 1941 by Henry Ford, who donated most of the money to create the museum. Bess Bolden Walcott served as curator from 1951 to 1962. Currently it serves as the park’s Visitor Center. Exhibits cover the entire life of Carver through interpretative texts and a plethora of photographs and artifacts from Carver’s time at Tuskegee. The Oaks was built in 1900 for Washington, who lived there until his death in 1915. It was the first house in Macon County with electricity and steam heating. The Queen Anne Revival style house is currently fully furnished on the first floor and open for tours.
Visitors may walk the university grounds of the National Historic Site and enjoy the early buildings of the Tuskegee campus, Washington’s home, and the George Washington Carver Museum. Students at Tuskegee typically conduct the guided campus tours and the site is open daily from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. As a National Historic Site, there are no admission fees. Nearby is the Tuskegee Airmen Historic Site at Moton Field, which honors the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen. Both lie adjacent to Tuskegee National Forest.