The Excelsior: A Lincolnville Legacy of Education

A color photograph of the second story of a Mediterranean Revival building featuring a balcony with "Excelsior High School" sign above.

The Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center sits within the historic Lincolnville neighborhood and promotes and educates the public on the 450+ years of African American history in St. Augustine. If you look up just before you walk through the front doors, you might notice “Excelsior High School” affixed to the walls. Nearly a century before the Lincolnville Museum began its educational mission, this building served as the educational center for the Black youth of Lincolnville.

A black and white photograph of Excelsior High School's exterior seen from the street.

The Excelsior School operated as early as 1901 and originally educated Black students as a primary school. By the 1920s, the Lincolnville neighborhood was thriving, and the wooden building had become too small to house all of the students. The current Excelsior School building was designed by architect Fred A. Henderich, a New Yorker who came to Florida at the turn of the century and is known for his design of other St. Augustine landmarks, including the St. Augustine Visitor Information Center, Florida Normal and Industrial Institute (now Florida Memorial University), and the downtown St. Augustine Record building.

Excelsior High School opened in 1925 as the first public Black high school in St. Johns County, and in its over 40 years of operation, educated thousands of high school students and played a major role in launching them into leadership roles in the city of St. Augustine, the state of Florida, and beyond. Otis Mason is one such notable alumnus. His mother Mildred was a teacher at Excelsior, and after graduating in 1946, Mason went on to become an Excelsior educator himself. He later became the first Black superintendent of St. Johns County Schools. Civil rights activists Henry and Katherine Twine were also graduates of Excelsior High School. Henry became the first Black Vice Mayor of the City of St. Augustine.

A color photograph of Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center's sign.

After desegregation in 1968, the Excelsior School closed and government offices occupied the space for a number of years. The historic building was almost lost, but Excelsior alumni and members of the community came together to save the building from demolition. It is fitting that the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center is housed in the Excelsior building, and can once again serve as a hub of education and culture for St. Augustine’s Lincolnville.

For more information about the significance of this historic building and the Black stories of St. Augustine, visit the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center’s website! They are located at 102 M. L. King Avenue, and are currently open to the public Tuesday-Saturday from 10:30AM-4:30PM.

One thought on “The Excelsior: A Lincolnville Legacy of Education

  1. Pingback: St. Benedict the Moor Catholic School – Governor's House Library

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