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Project Bird’s Eye View: Main Building, Peace Institute

One of the few four-story structures in the 1872 Bird’s Eye View map of Raleigh is the Main Building of Peace Institute. In this installment of Project Bird’s Eye View, we’ll take a look at this historic Raleigh institution which had a rather tumultuous beginning.

Talk of a Presbyterian female educational institution began in about 1847, but the project didn’t start moving until Presbyterian Minister Joseph Atkinson began a fundraising drive. This led to the eventual donation of $10,000 and 8 acres of land near the Capitol by Raleigh entrepreneur William Peace. Construction on a new higher education facility for women began in 1858.

Interrupted By Civil War

About 3 years after construction began, the building was nearly ready to admit its first students. 1861 marked the beginning of Civil War, and it put an abrupt halt to those plans.

Photo courtesy NC Division of Archives and History

After war broke out, the Confederate government took over the Main Building in its incomplete state. Cloth was draped over the glassless windows and Thomas Briggs (of Briggs Hardware) quickly laid flooring. The makeshift hospital began admitting casualties shortly thereafter.

After the war, the building was commandeered again, this time by Union forces. They set up a Freedmen’s Bureau within the building, which distributed food and administered health care to African-Americans following the war.

After years of use as a hospital during war time and then by the Union Army during the Reconstruction Era, it was dilapidated and in desperate need of extensive repairs. In the late 1860s the Institute’s directors regained control of the facility, but put the building up for sale. The future looked bleak for a ladies’ Presbyterian education facility.

The building almost became the home of the Shaw Institute (later University) when a bid was made by its founder Henry Tupper on the building. However, a last minute effort made by the original fundraiser, Reverend Atkinson, proved successful and the building was completed and restored. The first students were admitted in 1872.

1903 Junior Class of Peace Institute, from the Lotus

The newly formed Peace Institute began with the School of Cooking and Department of Needle and Fancy-work in its liberal arts program.

The first classes educated all grade levels from kindergarten (the first in the South) to college level. The early grade levels were soon phased out, with the final high school grade levels eliminated in 1968.

The Peace Institute was renamed Peace Junior College in 1940, and then Peace College in 1943.

The fountain in the photo above was once located in the yard of the Heck-Andrews House, and was gifted from the Andrews family in 1922.

Looking to the Future

Peace College is now comprised of more than 10 buildings and was recently renamed to William Peace University. The college was renamed with the announcement last summer that it would begin admitting men in the fall of this year.

In recent news, William Peace University announced a Simulation and Game Design major, available this fall: “The simulation and game design major has been developed to prepare university graduates for careers in the industry of advanced learning technologies and gaming, which has become a growing industry across the United States […].”

While the college has come a long way from its founding 155 years ago, the expanded curriculum displays a forward thinking outlook that will fare well for students. The new program is part of a fast growing and in-demand field both locally and nationally.

William Peace University stands proud as a cherished and historic institution of higher education in Downtown Raleigh.

Related Articles:

Further Reading:

Project Bird’s Eye View is a series in which we will document the remaining structures from the 1872  historical map and provide a small bit of history of the building over the years.


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