This institute grew out of an 1866 school for freedman. It became Brainerd Institute in 1868 when the Board of Missions of the Presbyterian Church in New York appointed Rev. Samuel Loomis to help establish churches and schools among blacks near Chester. At first an elementary school, Brainerd grew to ten grades by 1913 and was a four-year high school by the 1930s. Renamed Brainerd Junior College about 1935, it emphasized teacher training until it closed in 1939. Kulmer Hall is the only remaining building on the site.
In the late 1990s a local group generated national interest in preserving the school. Actress Phylicia Rashad and her sister, dancer Debbie Allen answered the call for support. Rashad purchased the property in honor of her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, who was a 1939 graduate of the institution. Both Rashad and Allen continue to assist programming and fundraising for the site.