Cheyney receives grant to renovate historic home into welcome center

The 240-year-old Melrose Cottage, also known as the Old President’s House,  will be restored and converted into a new welcome center on Cheyney University’s campus. (Cheyney University Photo)

The 240-year-old Melrose Cottage, also known as the Old President’s House, will be restored and converted into a new welcome center on Cheyney University’s campus. (Cheyney University Photo)

This story originally appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune

A 240-year-old historic home located on the campus of Cheyney University will be restored and converted into a new welcome center.

Melrose Cottage, also known as the Old President’s House, will be renovated thanks to a $500,000 National Park Services grant.

Cheyney is one of several recipients to receive a grant from the National Park Services inaugural round of funding for the Semiquincentennial Grant Program.

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The program was created by Congress in 2020 and funded through the Historic Preservation Fund. The initial round totaling $7 million in grants will support 17 cultural resource preservation projects across 12 states.

“The funding will allow the necessary restoration efforts to proceed and lead to the re-opening of the facility as well as the ability to demonstrate its history and contribution to the development of America,” said Cheyney president Aaron A. Walton.

The restoration process will include the renovation of the exterior facade and interior space to convert Melrose Cottage into a multi-functional facility.

One of the rooms inside Melrose Cottage on Cheyney University campus. (Cheyney University Photo)

The new welcome center will display a portion of Cheyney’s collection of historical records and a gift shop. The university plans to relocate the admission office to the building and train staff and students to be campus and community guides.

“The CheyneyMade story will be featured to expose and educate a new generation of learners about the impact of diversity, the need for inclusivity, and the imperative to be socially responsible individuals in an ever-changing world,” Walton said.

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Upon the competition of the project, Cheyney will assign resources to operate and maintain the facility and site annually. The sustainability plan will include maintenance, custodial and grounds, contract services for all systems and utilities.

The university will also coordinate with local historical societies and affinity groups to establish a “Friends of Melrose Cottage,” a restricted fund established to enable individual and institutional donors to support the maintenance of the building.

“We will retain strategic design professionals with experience in the restoration of historic structures,” said Cheyney University director of Title III/Grants Administration Mae B. Stephens in a statement. “This is an incredible opportunity to preserve our history while supporting our efforts to grow across our campus.”

Originally built before 1785, with additional sections added to the structure over time, the two-and-a-half-story cottage was the home of family members who bequeathed what was once farmland into the campus to create the school.

Stairs leading to another area of Melrose Cottage. The historic home is located on Cheyney University’s campus. (Cheyney University Photo)

The cottage would later serve as the president’s house from 1903 until 1968, with its period of greatest significance during the administration of educator, poet and humanitarian Leslie P. Hill.

Hill became principal at the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth in 1913. He remained at the Institute until 1951 and oversaw name changes and the status of the school.

The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The last work completed on the cottage was in 2004 to help preserve the exterior and structure. There are no internal systems, aesthetical finishes, or infrastructure that would allow the opening and use of the facility for the public.

“The cottage played a major role in its use during the primary establishment of modern day Cheyney University,” Walton said. “We want the welcome center to be the first stop for every person who comes to Cheyney, equipping them with knowledge about our university before they can explore it for themselves.”

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