The son of former slaves, Edgar Allen Long was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1871. He attended a local primary school in his hometown, and in 1891 he entered the Tuskegee Institute while working in the printing shop to earn money for tuition. After graduating from Tuskegee Institute, Long worked as an editor for the "Sentinel", a local newspaper in his hometown, and as a bookkeeper in the iconic all-black Penny Savings Bank.
In 1897, Long received an invitation from Charles Marshall, a fellow graduate of Tuskegee Institute and the principal of the Hill School in Christiansburg, as the institute was then called, to join the staff at the school. Later that fall, Long accepted Marshall’s invitation and became the school’s assistant principal and treasurer. He served in that office for nine years before becoming principal in 1906 upon Marshall’s death of Charles Marshall. Long served as principal of Christiansburg Institute until his death in 1923.
It was common for students to help build many of the structures on campus. For the E.A.L building, students performed all the excavation work and laid the underground soil pipe. The foundation of the building is concrete and has a net usable square footage of approximately 9,700 square feet.
The building officially opened for classes in December of 1928 and had classrooms for a multitude of subjects including physiology, Latin, agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, English, Bible, and general science. The wide central hallway and large classrooms with high ceilings allowed the building to also house P.E. classes and serve as general recreational space.
On December 6, 2000, the Virginia Historic Resources Board and the State Review Board added the Edgar A. Long building to its list of historic landmarks. In 2001 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to information from the Montgomery Museum of Art and History, Christiansburg Institute began after the Civil War with a mission to educate freed slaves. The school was founded by Captain Charles S. Schaeffer, a Union soldier and Baptist minister from Philadelphia. Working for the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Schaeffer came to Christiansburg in 1866 and started teaching twelve former slaves in a rented house. By 1869, the Hill School had grown to include over two hundred students. Beginning in 1870, a Quaker group called the Friends’ Freedmen’s Association began helping Schaeffer fund the school after the Freedmen’s Bureau stopped its support.
In the 1880s, Schaeffer turned over control of the school to a completely African-American staff. He retired to focus on ministry before his death in 1899. During his time in Southwest Virginia, Schaeffer organized twenty-nine African-American churches.
A new era for the Christiansburg Institute began in 1896 when Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, became adviser to the institute. In 1909, Washington addressed almost 5,000 Christiansburg residents, both white and black. The Christiansburg Institute implemented a curriculum similar to those at Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes, continuing to grow throughout the early twentieth century. The institute expanded to property at 140 Scattergood Drive, where the 1927 Edgar A. Long Building still stands.
In 1947, the Friends’ Freedmen’s Associations deeded the institute to the Montgomery County, Radford, and Pulaski County school systems. During the years of segregation in Southwest Virginia, Christiansburg Institute served the educational needs of African-American students from up to fifteen counties at a time. The institute closed in 1966 when local public schools integrated.