TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — One of Tahlequah’s most iconic structures, Seminary Hall, will be completing an $8 Million restoration and renovation project within the next year.
On Friday, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. toured the historic building, located on the campus of Northeastern State University, along with Dr. Steve Turner, NSU President.
“Seminary Hall has shaped the minds of so many of our Cherokee people, with this particular building dating back to 1888, that we knew we had to help preserve such an important legacy of our past,” Chief Hoskin said. “I’m extremely proud to see what the Cherokee Nation and CNB’s $4 million contribution has helped to preserve, and the good it will yield for our community, Cherokees, and students here at NSU for the next seven generations.”
Upon completion, Seminary Hall will house classrooms, the Graduate College and administration offices. Part of the restoration and renovation project included repairing electrical wiring, air systems, flooring, brick work and adding period brick, and building a museum on the third floor to showcase many of the historical photos, collections and Cherokee documents the university owns.
“Seminary Hall is a symbol of courage, hope and determination,” NSU President Turner said. “Through their generosity and continued commitment to higher education, the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people have ensured Seminary Hall will remain the educational cornerstone of our region. With this restoration, every first-time freshman will have at least one class in this historic building."
In 1847, Cherokee Nation began building two institutions of higher learning in their new capital of Tahlequah. Seminaries for males and females opened in May 1851 and provided a high school education. Administrators modeled the curricula after schools in the eastern United States.
Schedules allowed little free time. Students gave music recitals, staged dramatic plays, and published magazines. Church attendance was mandatory for students.
The Female Seminary in Park Hill was one of the first institutions of higher learning for women west of the Mississippi River. Prior to its founding, Cherokee women who wished to continue their education attended East Coast boarding schools. Cherokee Nation based the curriculum of the seminary on that of Mount Holyoke College for women in Massachusetts.
The original Seminary burned on Easter Sunday in 1887. The seminary relocated to Tahlequah and the replacement building was built in 1888 in a neo-Gothic architectural form of the late Nineteenth-century time period. The school continued to function through Oklahoma statehood and was subsequently sold to the state of Oklahoma in 1909 when it joined the state college system. At that time, the Oklahoma Department of Education granted 62 hours of college credit to the seminary graduates, recognizing the fine education they had received while in the care of the Cherokee Nation. Today the building is called Seminary Hall and is a visual staple when visiting the NSU campus.
“To say that the Cherokee Nation and NSU are inexorably intertwined is an understatement,” said Cherokee Nation Council Speaker Joe Byrd who toured the historic building earlier in the week. “We are happy to have partnered with the university to see that this piece of Cherokee history is being properly restored with so much attention to detail.”
Seminary Hall’s first floor contained a library that will now house faculty offices, including the university president. The second floor will have classrooms and third floor which used to be the girls’ dorm rooms, will be classrooms, meeting space and house the museum in partnership with Cherokee Nation.
Seminary Hall is also listed on the Cherokee Nation’s Registry of Historic Places implemented by Chief Hoskin in 2019.