First a College…
The atmosphere of education, research, and the exploration of new ideas is a familiar one to the Camp Hill area. For almost a century, the buildings located there served as the backbone of Storer College, one of this nation’s first institutions of higher learning established primarily for African-Americans.
The history of Storer College has its roots in abolitionist John Brown’s arrival in Harpers Ferry. The Civil War that followed Brown’s October 1859 raid devastated the small town, until then a thriving industrialized community with a large Federal Arsenal and Armory. Buildings were burned, businesses destroyed, and the townspeople relocated as first Union, then Confederate troops moved in and out of the area. Townspeople who returned after the war in 1865 soon realized that any hopes of rebuilding Harpers Ferry to its former prominence were doomed. A series of floods in the late 1800s ended any dreams of grandeu that were left.
The devastation wrought by the Civil War had one positive result. In 1865, a few concerned citizens, former members of the Freemen’s Bureau and the Christian Commission, received permission from the War Department to use two of the Camp Hill Armory residences as classrooms for the education of freed African-Americans.
John Storer, a Maine businessman, offered $10,000 for the establishment of a college or normal school without restriction as to race or color. In 1867, Storer College was granted a charter by the West Virginia legislature. One year later, Congress deeded the majority of Camp Hill and the four remaining Armory residences to the new college.
For the next century, Storer College flourished, annually graduating an average of 150 young men and women. The faculty and student body were racially mixed until the end of World War I. The growing demand by African-Americans for space at the school caused the administration to encourage potential white students to attend other insititutions not open to African Americans.
Enrollment declined after the 1954 Desegregation Act and in 1955 Storer College closed. The buildings on the old campus, including Anthony Hall, Cook Hall Dormitory, and the college chapel, cafeteria, and the library remained empty for the next few years.
… Now a Training Center
In 1962, the National Park Service began looking for a location for a new training institute. The buildings at Storer College were acquired. Several of the older, more deteriorated structures were removed and the rest of the buildings were extensively renovated or restored. The Stephen T. Mather Training Center, named in honor of the first Director of the National Park Service, was officially dedicated in 1964 to continue the tradition of higher education on Camp Hill.
The Mather Training Center campus is composed of two main structures. Wirth Hall (once Storer College’s Anthony Hall) is named for former National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth and houses the classrooms and administrative offices. Storer’s Cook Hall Dormitory is used as offices for NPS staff and the Distance Learning Group. Other buildings on the campus, including the Anthony Library, formerly the Storer College library, are used by Harpers Ferry Media Design Center.
For more information, contact the Mather Training Center.