Edward Waters College, 1: Elegies and Palimpsests

by Tim Gilmore, 3/19/2021

entry arch connecting B.F. Lee Theological Seminary Building to Milne Auditorium

How many nights have these stone gargoyles stared into the trees? In what countless ways have pedestrians ambling the neighborhood 25 years ago or 50, even a century ago and more, woven their walks through the campus and the college through their lives? The noble stone heights of Centennial Hall, built in 1916, of the Lee Theological Building, finished in 1927, make a strange sense amidst the woodframe houses, the crab shacks and the old brick refining company service stations.

entry arch connecting B.F. Lee Theological Seminary Building to Milne Auditorium

For Edward Waters College, the oldest educational institution in Jacksonville, brings to Kings Road what urbanist Jane Jacobs said defines a city—an “enormous collection of small elements, where people can see them, at street level.” And because I’m walking the city and the campus with Dr. David Jamison, EWC professor of history, we’re looking also for what we cannot see. It’s what those who study history do.

Lee Seminary Building

In his academic career, Dr. Jamison has triangulated this nation. After growing up in Queens, New York, he studied in Los Angeles, then earned a Ph.D. in African Diaspora History from Indiana University. He taught public school in Brooklyn and L.A. At Miami University in Ohio, he taught at Middletown Campus when J.D. Vance published his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, set largely in Middletown. Most recently Jamison came to Jacksonville to teach history at Florida’s oldest historically black college.

photographic negative of Lee Seminary Building, date unknown, courtesy Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission

I take notes. I want to write stories as archaeology. For the stories themselves bleed up through palimpsests in the landscape. I excavate them, give them new words, and resurrect them for audiences of the living. Thus does Professor Jamison point across Centennial Hall to a building that no longer stands. He references records that are missing. He notes what must have been, just past the last corner of what now eclipses what was.

cont’d Edward Waters College, 2: Centennial Hall (and Salter)—Peering into the Vanished