The Gillespie-Selden Historic District is located in southwest Cordele, Georgia, and is roughly bounded by US 280/GA 30 (16th Avenue) to the south, 13th Avenue and the CSX Railroad to the north, 11th Street to the east, and 15th Street to the west. The Gillespie-Selden neighborhood centers around the Gillespie-Selden Institute campus on West 15th Avenue.
The Gillespie Normal School was founded in 1902 by Dr. Augustus S. Clark and his wife, Anna Clark, to provide educational facilities for African-American boys and girls. The school was named in recognition of the Gillespie family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose financial gift made the school possible. The Clarks met the Gillespies during a Presbyterian Conference in South Carolina. With the financial gift, the Clarks were able to build a school and support a boarding program. Students from the eastern section of the United States, such as New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, attended the school. Some of the students worked as laborers in the rail yards to attend the institute.
Gillespie-Selden Institute originally consisted of two wood-framed buildings, a faculty of three teachers, and an enrollment of 28 students. In 1923, a hospital was financially secured with a gift of $1,000. At that time the nearest hospital for African-Americans was located 160 miles away. The first nurse was Mrs. Eula Burke Johnson, a graduate of the Gillespie Normal School. The hospital was located on the second floor of one of the early wood-framed buildings and consisted of two beds and one operating room. Local doctors, white and African-American, were on the staff. The Charles Helm Hospital, named for the benefactor, also functioned as a nursing training school. The nurses trained in patient care at the hospital and attended classes at the Gillespie-Selden Institute. In 1937, a 25-bed hospital was constructed near the Gillespie-Selden Institute and named Gillespie Hospital for William Gillespie, who donated the funds needed to build it. The hospital, in cooperation with the state nursing service and under the direction of Nurse Johnson, held weekly clinics for midwives who cared for over 50% of all maternity cases in this area of the state. In 1949, a separate nursing college, Selden Cottage, was constructed to house the nursing program.
The Gillespie-Selden Institute, located at the corner of 15th Avenue and 12th Street, includes a complex of buildings consisting of the President’s Home, Founder’s Home, girls’ dormitory, Gillespie Memorial Hospital, Administration Building and Selden Cottage. The President’s home, built circa 1925 is located next to the girls’ dormitory and is a two-story brick building with Craftsman style detailing. The Founder’s Home, also known as Dr. Clark’s House, is a Colonial Revival style house built circa 1941 and located on 15th Avenue near St. Paul Presbyterian Church. The girls’ dormitory is a three-story brick building with Colonial Revival style features built in 1929. This building was one of the first brick buildings constructed on the campus. The Gillespie Memorial Hospital is a one-story brick building with a center gable built in 1937 with Colonial Revival style features. The Administration Building, built in 1937, is a two-story brick building featuring a center tower with Colonial Revival style detailing. Selden Cottage, which served as a nursing school, is a two-story brick building constructed in 1949.
In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County, farmer Henry Clark, 39, wife, Florah, 38, and children John, 16, Mary J., 14, Ella, 12, Henrietta, 9, Henry, 8, Augustin, 5, Thomas, 3, and Margaret, 10 months.
On 12 September 1918, 44 year-old Augustus Simeon Clark registered for the World War I draft. His occupation? “Teaching and preaching.”
In the 1920 census of Cordele, Crisp County, Georgia: at 611 – 15th Avenue West, Rev. Augustus S. Clark, 46, wife Annie, 40, and adopted daughter Louise, 14. Annie and Louise were Alabama natives.
In the 1930 census of Cordele, Crisp County, Georgia: A.S. Clark, 55, superintendent of Gillespie School; wife A.W., 52, teacher; daughter K. Louise, 24, teacher; and ten boarders, including a campus laborer, students, a nurse and two teachers.
One of the testimonials of “Negro college presidents” who joined and contributed to National Urban League’s labor programming, Pittsburgh Courier, 7 July 1934.
In the 1940 census of Cordele, Crisp County, Georgia: at Gillespie Normal School, Augustus S. Clark, 65, president, and wife Anna Clark, 60, dean.
Augustus S. Clark died 28 July 1959 in Cordele, Georgia.
For more on preservation efforts in Cordele’s Gillespie-Selden Historic District, see Gillespie-Selden Design Charrette.