Throwback Thursday: Lane Theological Seminary

Did you know that Walnut Hills was once the home of a renowned seminary headed up by Dr. Lyman Beecher, father of author Harriet Beecher Stowe? The Lane Theological Seminary, named after its first large donor Ebenezer Lane, was founded in 1828 by Presbyterians. It sat on land bounded by Gilbert, Yale, Ashland and Chapel Streets (map) in Walnut Hills. Today much of this land is occupied by Thomson-MacConnell Cadillac, but historical marker erected on Gilbert Ave. still tell the story of Lane Seminary.

Dr. Lyman Beecher had a national reputation and Lane Seminary soon attracted top students from around the country. These students very quickly began to form anti-slavery societies and open classes up to Black students. Lively debates at the school ensued, and many of these activist students actually left the seminary when Seminary trustees attempted to quell what they felt were out-of-control student actions. Many of these “Lane Rebels” went on to play important roles in the anti-slavery movement across the country.

Dr. Lyman Beecher

Nevertheless, Lane Seminary continued to have a consistently anti-slavery reputation, and an early Black settlement formed around the school. Lane did not discriminate against new Black residents as it leased out portions of its land for new homes. The Seminary stayed in operation for about 100 years, finally closing in 1931 and transferring students to McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. In addition to its work in establishing Walnut Hills as an integrated community, Lane Seminary and Dr. Beecher also brought Walnut Hills a national reputation as a center of learning.

Sources: Walnut Hills City Neighborhood, by Cincinnati Historical Society, 1983;   Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio, by Ohio Historical Society, 1907

3 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Lane Theological Seminary

  1. I’ve always appreciated the fact that I was born in the smallest of the three buildings that were on the Thompson-McConnell property when it was still Lane Seminary… the 1940’s. Reverend Kemper had settled Walnut Hills with his farmstead cabin near the Post Office on Park Avenue/Walnut Hills. Most of the surrounding block was his homestead. It’s only too likely to further advance the Presbytery that creating an educational institution would help establish this part of early Cincinnati.
    To note: Levi Coffin lived on the diagonal corner across from the now Stowe House. It’s likely there were tunnels or hideouts along in the whole corridor of Gilbert Avenue. Lane lost those “out of control’ students to Oberlin, for one college….Lyman Beecher was more conservative in his Presbyterian way regarding abolition. Indeed, Harriet may have stepped out on a personal, as well as social, limb to write her book.
    Doing it away from Cincinnati was meant to be, and also an important aspect about it. Cincinnati was not exactly a harbor of safe relief from slavery during pre-Civil War days….the sentiment wasn’t in the slaves favor as much as we’d wish it to be.
    Harriet gathered much material and experience while in Cincinnati, but wrote the book when she went back east. Though she may not have intentionally had this happen, it never the less was an advantage as far as having more objectivity regarding the topic of abolition.

    There are several well-written books on The Beechers. They were a rivetingly interesting bunch. : )

  2. My family of seven lived in the Seminary, first in an apartment that faced Chapel Street, later in the Anthony. The Federated Colored Women’s Club was across Chapel. Sefferino’s (sp?) Roller Rink was across Gilbert, and a popular Jazz club was on Chapel. We played softball behind the library. I attended Cummins School, but my younger sisters were among the first “white” children at the newly integrated Douglas School. On turning 15, I went to work at Guenther’s, a Department Store at Peobles Corner, where I worked in the children’s department until I attended the University. My sisters and brother and I made weekly trips to the library on Kemper Lane, where we all learned to love books. In 1956 we had to move because the Cadillac Agency had purchased the property and began to tear down the beautiful buildings.

  3. Thanks Bonnie and Pat for sharing your own knowledge and personal stories. Walnut Hills has such a rich history, and we just hit the tip of the iceberg. Throughout this month (Black History Month) we’ll be highlighting different aspects of the neighborhood’s history as it pertains to integration, social activism and African-American culture. Thanks for reading!

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