After the Civil War, African Americans strived to become full participants in society. Many saw education as crucial for advancement. In 1869, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation encouraging local school districts to provide black communities with free public schools. The law sought to separate blacks and whites as much as provide African Americans with education but nonetheless proved valuable. The Division Street School is one of hundreds of black schools built in the wake of the new law. Construction began in 1884; the classes were held the following year. Today, Division Street School serves as a museum of African American life and education in New Albany. It shows the historical strength of New Albany’s African American residents, their commitment to education, and the modest conditions that characterized black schooling during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Division Street School is a one-story frame building with tall windows, a hipped roof, and simple architectural finishes. The interior contains two classrooms, one for grades 1-3, the other for grades 4-6. Enrollment typically ranged between 60 and 70. The school operated alongside several others that served black students, including Lower Second Street Elementary School and Scribner High School. In establishing the Division Street School, the New Albany School Board sought to serve the Providence neighborhood on the east side of New Albany, where a significant number of the city’s roughly 1,500 black residents lived.
In 1946, officials closed the Division Street School and sent its students to the Griffin Street School, located on the opposite side of New Albany. The Division Street building was subsequently used as a Veterans’ Affairs office during World War II and then sat vacant until 1959, when the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation turned it into a storage and maintenance facility. In 1999, the school corporation vacated the building. Victor Megenity, a history teacher at Scribner Junior High School, and Katheryn Hickerson, a secretary at Scribner who had attended Division Street School in her youth, developed plans to restore the building to its circa 1925 appearance. The pair founded an organization called the Friends of Division Street School, Inc., that soon began raising funds. Division Street School was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and subsequently restored. Today, it houses a museum of African American heritage in one of its former classrooms. The other classroom is furnished as it would have been in the mid-1920s. The museum recognizes the importance of education to African Americans after the Civil War and the role of schooling in New Albany during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.