The Lawrenceville Female Seminary was originally built as a finishing school for the girls living in this area. The town of Lawrenceville was incorporated in 1821 and by the late 1830's the citizens of the county felt that their county had changed from a rough, frontier outpost to something a little more settled. In keeping with this image, the leading citizens decided that it was necessary to build a school for the young women of the county.
The Female Seminary was incorporated in 1837 by the Georgia General Assembly and a structure was built in 1838 by Daniel Killian, general contractor. The building was completed on July 31, 1838, and the doors first opened for classes on September 24, 1838. This structure, however, was destroyed by fire (no information available on how the fire began) sometime between October 23, 1850 and July 21, 1851 and a new one was erected between 1853 and 1855. This is the building that is standing today. It was built in conjunction with the newly founded Lawrenceville Masonic Lodge, No. 131, Free and Accepted Masons, with the agreement that girls would be instructed on the first floor and the masons would meet on the second floor, acting as caretakers for the building. These masons are now located in the brick building next door to the Female Seminary.
The girls who attended the Female Seminary came from surrounding farms or were daughters of merchants, attorneys, and doctors from surrounding towns. It served as an alternative for girls who were typically educated at home. In the beginning, the girls paid $12 a year for instruction in spelling, reading, writing, and common arithmetic; $20 a year for English grammar, geography, history, Moral Philosophy, and rhetoric; $30 a year for Latin, Greek, algebra, and geometry, or for Natural Philosophy, chemistry, and Astronomy. In addition to the initial fee, parents were required to supply one cord of wood for every four pupils, one-fourth of which had to be light wood, used to heat the school room during the cold winter months.
Miss Martha Wells served as the school's first teacher, as well as the first principal. However, as was typical in this period of history, the teachers were overwhelmingly male in number at the Female Seminary. The principal's office was located on the second floor, and he/she would step out of the office each school day and tug on the bell rope, signaling the girls to school. Around 1856, boys were admitted to the school, but they had to be under ten years of age and had to stay at school an hour after the girls left. The rules for allowing boys changed back and forth-first allowing them, and then excluding them-throughout the life of the school.
Perry Street, a dirt road back then, was a main thoroughfare in those days, as the main stage coach line between Lawrenceville and Stone Mountain and on to Augusta ran along it.
The most tragic event known to have happened at this school occurred on June 9, 1873. During recess time, a sudden thunderstorm rolled into the area. Seeing the dark clouds, a group of a dozen or so girls ran for cover towards the outhouse, but by the time they had all reached it, a deadly bold of lightening hit the play yard. Antoinette Roberts was killed instantly; Ada Wilson died 19 months later; and Mary Jeanette Hood died of complications 3 1/2 years later. Ten other girls were also injured. Dr. Mitchell, Dr. Shaffer, and Dr. O'Kelly all gave quick medical attention to the girls. The principal at the time of this tragedy was George B. Atkisson and the Assistant Principal was Miss Maggie Stewart. Among those who taught at this school were William Wallace, Rev. J. Lawrence King, Mrs. J. Lawrence King, R.E. Mitchell, Rev. William Henry Strickland, Rev. William M. Winn, A.B. Brumby, and James T. Newton.
It seems that the last classes were held around 1888. The last group to use the first floor schoolroom was the Hi-Hope School for Retarded Children. The Female Seminary building was then used over the next half-century as a "civic center" for the community, frequently housing Kiwanis and Lion Club meetings dinners; as well as meetings for various garden clubs, historical organizations, the PTA, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The building fell into disrepair and was almost sold to a Dairy Queen franchise in 1971. Local citizens, spear-headed by Mrs. Annette Williams Tucker, put up earnest money and got the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was bought by matching grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Federal Open Air Grant and the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners (total price for acquisition and restoration was $113,216). Under the supervision of restoration architect Mrs. Gloria Kidd Brown, the building was restored as nearly as possible to its original appearance.
Today, the first floor serves as a meeting facility and rental space; and the second floor houses the Gwinnett History Museum.
The Museum offers visitors a unique glimpse into the history of Gwinnett County and its inhabitants by housing a permanent collection specializing in the acquisition, preservation and interpretation of Gwinnett County historic and folk artifacts. We also have a limited collection of family, library, city, county, school, church, & club records, and photographs. Artifacts housed in the museum include furniture, farm tools & equipment, clothing, textiles, looming equipment, turn of the century kitchen exhibits, Gwinnett County church exhibits, one room schoolhouse exhibits and a bluegrass music of Georgia exhibit.
Some museum programs include: lectures, adult classes & workshops regarding different historical themes, guided tours (by appointment only), monthly Grounds 'n Sounds coffeehouse nights, monthly Scots/Irish Coffee Ceili/dh, Summer History Camps for children ages 6-12 that include heritage, archaeology and Civil War Camps, a History Book Club (co-sponsored by the Gwinnett County Public Library), an annual folk/bluegrass music festival, and the annual December Victorian Yuletide Feast and Tea.
Museum sponsored special interest groups include the Northeast Georgia Civil War Roundtable which meets the first Sunday of each month from 3-4:30pm and the Gwinnoters, a chapter of the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association which meets the fourth Sunday of each month from 2-4pm.