Historic Trenton’s Day in the Life: The Higbee School
On Bellevue Avenue and Fowler Street sits two of Trenton’s historic properties, the Carver Center and The Higbee Street School. Both buildings have been under the National Register of Historic Places listing since 1995, but recently, the buildings have gotten new signage. For Historic Trenton’s Day in the Life, we’re looking back through newspapers from the beginning and examining everyday problems, solutions, and needs during historic Trenton’s past. Today, we examine the history of The Higbee Street School.
The Higbee Street School was the first school built specifically for Black children in Trenton. At the time of its construction, about 700 African Americans lived within Trenton’s 8,000 residents.
According to the National Register of Historic Places listing “Most of the city’s African American population then resided in a segregated district in Trenton’s North Ward, a poor district much neglected by municipal authorities located between the Pennsylvania Railroad yards and the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Feeder. The core of the community-centered in and around present-day Bellevue Avenue (Washington 1990:3).”
The Higbee Street School, located at 20 Bellevue Avenue, is known as Bellevue Avenue School and John T. Nixon School. The school was designed by Evernham and Hill architectural firm, and the building was built in 1857.
It was not the first school building built in New Jersey to educate African American children. However, the brick Greek revival style was a departure from the norm.
The school building is the only surviving example of five rectangular-shaped nineteenth-century Greek Revival edifices constructed for the Trenton School Board in 1857.
“The Higbee Street School followed design concepts of nineteenth-century education reformers like Henry Barnard that were adopted by the nascent New Jersey state school bureaucracy pressing for better schoolhouses throughout the state. The Higbee Street School is probably one of the first African American schoolhouses to embody such innovations,” according to The National Register of Historic Places listing.
As the African American Population grew from 700 to 2,600, anger over the living conditions and education conditions would lead to the passage of the Statewide Compulsory Education Act of 1874. More young people in New Jersey would be attending school.
“In 1872, the students of the Higbee School were moved into rented rooms on Belvidere Street while construction began on a new school on Ringold Street. The new Colored School was opened at the latter.”
This school and others among it were important to the African American community in Trenton, who saw education as a way to work their way out and combat poverty, intolerance, and racial oppression long before the Higbee School was constructed in 1857.
“As early as 1801, Trenton was one of the few cities in the state to have white staffed and run schools for African American children,” according to The National Register of Historic Places listing.
The Higbee Street School is distinguished among the state’s few surviving schools for Black children because of its progressive design. In 1872, the student population outgrew the facility and moved into temporary quarters while the new Bellevue Avenue Colored School was under construction. The Higbee Street School was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 14, 1995.
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