Excelsior School was St. Augustine's first black public high school. Its historic building is now a growing cultural center showcasing the city's rich African-American history.
Since its establishment after the Civil War by freedmen, Lincolnville has lived every phase of America's racial journey. After 1865, plantation land was subdivided and leased or sold to veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops. The neighborhood soon evolved into one of the largest clusters of Victorian homes in the city. In 1991, the U.S. Department of the Interior listed Lincolnville in the National Register of Historic Places. The area is slowly becoming a part of the tour narratives of the city.
The Excelsior School
The site where the LMCC now stands has been a black educational center since 1901. St. Augustine's only black school, called "School #2" or "Colored School" existed there until 1921. By 1919, the thriving black community had outgrown the worn, wooden building and began to petition the St. Johns County School Board to build a new school for black children. When the school board refused to budget for a new building, local black residents raised $750 and presented it to the school board with a request for funding to repair the old school. Their request was rejected again.
After five years of rejections, the school board finally approved funding for a new building. But not just any building. St. Augustine's leading architect, Fred Henderich, was hired to design a lasting masonry structure. A New York City native, Henderich had lived and worked in St. Augustine for twenty years. The area's natural resources inspired him to bring the Mediterranean Revival style to Florida, which he used to design the Plaza Bandstand, Flagler Hospital, Florida Normal College, Hastings High School, the Visitors Center, and in 1925, Excelsior School. Excelsior's impressive structure was completed just as construction began on the historic Bridge of Lions.
The elegant new building became Lincolnville's main educational and community center for the next fifty years. The campus evolved through variations of the name "Colored School" before it became "Excelsior" in 1928. Excelsior nurtured many of St. Augustine's top educators, nurses, entrepreneurs, entertainers, and athletes, including NFL star Willie Gallimore and civil rights leaders Henry and Kat Twine. Some of these people are still around to share their memories of Lincolnville's glory days.
In 1968, the Excelsior retired as a school and spent some thirty years housing a variety of local government offices. The building's historical value was widely recognized when Lincolnville was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. In the early 2000s, residents and city officials worked to renovate the building into a cultural center.
Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center
Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center opened in 2005 thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Excelsior. In 2012, the center gained its current name.
The LMCC's mission is to preserve, promote and perpetuate over 450 years of the African American story through the arts, educational programs, lectures, live performances and exhibits. In the museum, visitors can browse the rich cultural heritage of the Lincolnville community. Sections are dedicated to the black presence in the Spanish colonial period, historic black churches, social life in the neighborhood, and various entrepreneurs.
Additionally, Lincolnville's older residents can reminisce about memories, both joyful and painful, thanks to donated memorabilia. They can see pictures of their teachers and classmates, sporting teams, and school day memories.
Friends of Lincolnville
The Friends of Lincolnville is the nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the museum. The group is governed by a board of directors which include community members, former Excelsior students, and historians. President Emeritus of the board is none other than Lincolnville native Mr. Otis Mason. After graduating from Excelsior, Mr. Mason served a tour in the Army during the Korean War. He went on to graduate from Florida A&M and then New York University. In his lifetime of service to America and the local community, Mr. Mason spent eighteen years as supervisor of St. Johns County's elementary schools. He was elected as the first Black Superintendent of schools and served for two 4-year terms until he retired in 1993.
Today the museum has grown into a historical resource with exhibits on St. Augustine's rich Black heritage. It offers educational programs from renowned authors and historians, live jazz performances, theatre and reenactments. The Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center offers everyone a chance to see St. Augustine through the eyes of the town's African-American community and to learn about their contributions to the region and the nation.