HBCUBuzz visits Wilberforce, Ohio to unearth the history surrounding the CN&I Power Plant at Central State University.


In the world of black history, one element that is prominently acknowledged is the legacy history leaves behind for generations to keep. This morale is deeply rooted at Central State University, located in Wilberforce, OH.  Students and faculty alike share a great appreciation for the historical buildings that have stood the tests of time since the establishment of this university since the year 1887. One of the most prominent monuments to be documented is one of the oldest power plants recognized by the Ohio Historical Records Foundation. This is known as the CN&I Power Plant.

The power plant is said to be one of the oldest operating plants in Green County, OH.  Built in 1926 on the main campus, the power plant is an excellent example of industrial vernacular architecture. The plant was designed to furnish heat and electrical power to the Combined Normal and Industrial Department (CNI). The state sponsored both vocational and educational training divisions at Wilberforce University. Some of the existing machinery inside the plant dates back to the late 1920s.

The Power Plant is one of several structures built with the assistance of the CNI faculty and students alike. Other buildings constructed on the CNI campuses during the same period include the Benjamin F. Lee Teachers Education building built in 1925, and the Tawawa Hospital, built in 1927. Of these constructions, only the power plant survives. For nearly twenty years after its establishment, the plant also served as classrooms and a laboratory for students in carpentry, drafting, electrical and mechanical engineering and the plumbing and heating trades.

According to a report on the work of the vocational department, the CN&I emphasized opportunities for practical experience beyond the campus, and students were used for all phases of construction work in the Wilberforce community as well. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, the Power Plant not only represents the historic architecture of the time, but also the craftsmanship of African American artisans and apprentices in the early 20th century.

The Power Plant is also recognized as one of only three historic buildings still standing on the original Wilberforce and Central State University campuses. The other two buildings still intact to this day are Carnegie Library, originally built in 1907 and Emery Hall, which was built in 1913. All three landmarks were expressly constructed for a Historically Black College in the Midwest.