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Harbison College

Abbeville and Irmo, South Carolina



The University of South Carolina has the digital collection of images from Harbison Agricultural College.  It also contains an “Institutional  History” of the school.  The National Register application for the President’s House also contains a history of the school.  Like most black schools, Harbison is profiled in Era of Progress and Promise.  Columbia State gives some school news.


Reverend Emory Williams founded Ferguson Academy at Abbeville in 1885.  The Board of  Missions for Freedmen of the United Presbyterian Church gained legal title to the school in 1891.  Samuel Harbison of Pittsburgh provided 20 acres of land a mile out of Abbeville for the construction of a new campus.  At that time the name was changed to Harbison College.  


The Harbison estate then provided an additional 200 acres for agricultural use.  In 1903 the farm produced 550 bushels of potatoes and 200 bushels of turnips and four barrels of molasses.  In addition to providing food for the dining hall and tuition funds for student workers, the farm cleared more than $1,000 in profits in 1906.    


Following a period of prosperity and expansion, Harbison College experienced difficulties.  In 1906 State reported that President Thomas H. Amos had told students and that he hoped no none of them “would work for white people in a subordinate or menial capacity.”  These remarks led to his resignation and hasty departure from the state.  The women’s dormitory burned in 1907.  In 1910 three students lost their lives when arsonists burned Harbison Hall and damaged the President’s House.


When it reopened in 1911, Harbison College had moved to a new campus at Irmo.    Again, The Harbison estate provided 445 acres for a campus.  The school name was changed to Harbison Agricultural College, and it became an all-male school.  In 1933 it again became co-educational.  In 1929 the name was changed to Harbison Agricultural and Industrial Institute and in 1946 to Harbison Junior College.


















Era of Progress and Promise shows a 1908 enrollment of 224 taught by faculty of 11.  The four departments were literary, industrial, religious and musical.  The three levels were primary, English preparatory, and normal. 

Students were required to attend Sabbath School, daily devotionals, morning chapel, Saturday night prayer services, and Sunday night chapel.  The YMCA held meeting each Sunday afternoon.  Bible study was required in all courses. 


After brief closures in 1906, 1910, and 1941, Harbison College closed for good in 1958.

Bricks and Mortar

By 1906 the Abbeville campus contained four main buildings with students assisting in construction.  Ferguson Hall housed the female students; Henry Phipps Hall housed the men; Harbison Hall contained administrative offices, classrooms, library, Y.M.C.A. meeting rooms, and the chapel; there was also the President’s House.  Ferguson Hall burned in 1906.  Harbison Hall was destroyed in 1910.  Today, only the President’s House remains, listed on the National Register in 1983.


The new Administration Building at Irmo burned in 1941 and was replaced in 1944.  After Harbison closed, the campus was leased to the South Carolina Department of Corrections in 1964.  Wanting to use the property for “socially relevant” purposes, the trustees donated 19.5 acres and the remaining five campus buildings to Midland Technical College-Harbison Center in 1978.

Harbison College graduates from the 1890's.  Image from "In Those Days," a National Park Service publication. ( accessed 2-20-2017


A rare image of Harbison Hall with its distinctive bell tower before the 1910 fire.  Image taken from the Presbyterian Banner (;view=1up;seq=1354) accessed 1-16-2018


Colors: Gold and Blue

Team name: Aggies, Panthers


In 1937 State reported that it had been 25 years since intercollegiate competition for Black schools had become organized.  Certainly newspapers show no Harbison sports history until the 1920’s.   Harbison became a member of the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association along with other HBCU schools.  But an 85-0 football loss to Claflin College in 1935 showed that Harbison could compete only with the smaller high schools, academies and institutes.   


Until its closure, Harbison competed in football, basketball and baseball against the likes of Morris College, Haines Institute, Bettis Academy, Coulter Academy, Schofield Institute, and Booker T. Washington High School.

Harbison Agricultural College baseball team  Image courtesy of the South Caroliana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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