Small building had big role in local history

Tucked into a courtyard behind Lucy C. Laney High School is a nondescript red-brick building.

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Cleaveland Seaford, the head custodian of Laney Walker High School, stands near the Cauley-Wheeler house on the school's campus.The house is the last remaining building of Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, founded by black educator Lucy Craft Laney in 1924.   SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Cleaveland Seaford, the head custodian of Laney Walker High School, stands near the Cauley-Wheeler house on the school's campus.The house is the last remaining building of Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, founded by black educator Lucy Craft Laney in 1924.

Its almost resembles the newer school buildings that surround it, except a marker on one corner identifies it as the Cauley-Wheeler Building, built in 1924.

On the ground beside it is a granite cornerstone bearing an engraving of the Class of 1928.

Once, when the Laney campus looked nothing like it does today, the building was one of six that made up the Haines Normal and Industrial School.

The school’s history goes back to 1883, when Lucy Craft Laney started teaching in a basement room at Christ Presbyterian Church.

“At first it was supposed to be an all-girls school, but the first day of school, four girls and two boys showed up. And so it was co-ed from the beginning,” said Christine Miller-Betts, the executive director for the Lucy C. Laney Museum of Black History.

Every day, more children showed up and Laney moved her class to a building on Calhoun Street. Within a couple of years, she had 200 pupils and had outgrown that space as well.

Laney went to Minnesota to appeal to the General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church to ask for financial help to build a school.

She was turned away, but shortly afterward was contacted by Francine E.H. Haines, who was so moved by her mission that she offered the money. Laney named it the Haines Normal and Industrial School in her honor.

The Haines campus, which once stood where Lucy C. Laney High School now is, grew to include two dormitories, an industrial building and an administration building.

The Cauley-Wheeler building was named for Alice Wheeler, a benefactor who gave the school $10,000 in honor of her nurse, Mary Cauley, who was trained there. The Cauley-Wheeler building housed the primary school.

Many graduates of the Haines school went on to become respected leaders, doctors, lawyers and teachers in their communities.

The Haines school closed in 1949 and many of the buildings were razed to make room for the Lucy C. Laney High School. The Cauley-Wheeler building is the only building that remains. It has served as classroom space and the ROTC building for Laney High School. Now it houses a small museum.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

It is scheduled to be demolished in a few months to make room for newer facilities. A replica is expected to be erected in its place, said Robyn Anderson of Historic Augusta.

The campus where she carried out her life’s work and where the school bearing her name has stood for more than 50 years is steps away from Laney’s former home, which is now a museum dedicated to her and to the contributions of other Augustans like her.

“Lucy Laney was such a dynamic person. She did so much with so little,” Miller-Betts said.

“Every day when I come down here, I’m reminded. I never forget that this is where Ms. Laney lived and this is where she represented.”


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