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Alumni of the Former Downingtown Industrial and Agricultural School Will Join College Officials September 30 to Celebrate the Rich Legacy of the Former School for African Americans
(Delaware and Chester Counties, PA • September 28, 2021)—Dozens of graduates of the former Downingtown Industrial and Agricultural School (DIAS), now home of Delaware County Community College’s Downingtown Campus, 100 Bond Drive, will return to the site of their alma mater at 11 a.m., Thursday, September 30 to reminisce, celebrate, unveil a historical plaque, and participate in creating an oral history about the school, where hundreds of African Americans learned agriculture, mechanical trades, domestic arts, reading, writing and mathematics from 1904 to 1993.
The College will provide DIAS alumni with an opportunity to record their reflections about the school, and an oral history of DIAS will be shared at a later time on the internet. College officials also will unveil a plaque summarizing the history of the school, which educated such famous notables as American jazz singer, bandleader Cabell “Cab” Calloway III. “On September 30, we plan to celebrate and help document the important contribution the Downingtown Industrial and Agricultural School made to Chester County and the Greater Philadelphia region,” said Delaware County Community College President Dr. L. Joy Gates Black, who along with Carol Sinex Schmidt of the East Brandywine Township Historical Commission and several DIAS alumni, will conduct the plaque unveiling ceremony.
DIAS was founded in 1904 by William A. Creditt, pastor of Philadelphia’s First African Baptist Church, on a portion of a 110-acre site, known as the McFarlan Farm, on the north side of Horseshoe Pike. John Trower, a wealthy catering business magnate and a member of Creditt’s church, provided the funds to purchase the McFarlan Farm.
Inspired by the work of influential educator, author and reformer Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), and his funding and leadership of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama in 1881, Creditt created DIAS in 1904 to provide African Americans with education and training leading to good, family-sustaining wage jobs. The co-ed school opened with 30 students in grades 6 through 12, and Creditt served as the school’s first principal. Teachers and students lived on campus and the school adopted the motto: “self-help through self-worth.” Apart from a period in 1946, when the school experienced a devastating fire, DIAS continued to provide education and child services until 1993. Delaware County Community College purchased the site in 1999 and opened its Downingtown Campus there in 2002.
In addition to academic disciplines, DIAS offered classes in carpentry, plumbing, automotive technology, home economics, typing and business training. Fruits, vegetables, eggs and milk were raised or grown on the campus. Sports programs were added in the 1920s, along with classes to aid students in poise and self-assurance, public speaking, grooming, scouting, chorus and public debate. During the war years, students also received instruction in first aid, military drill and civil defense. In 1921, Cab Calloway’s parents, concerned about him skipping school and going to the horseraces, sent him to DIAS, which was founded by Calloway’s grandmother’s brother, Reverend Creditt in Pennsylvania. Calloway, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, stayed about a year at the school and, according to Baltimore’s Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation, stated: “That year in Downingtown made a big difference. I walked into Downingtown a little boy, and I came out a man. What made the difference was being away from home and having to make it on my own … Downingtown was a turning point for me.”