The Historical Saint Paul's College was founded on September 24, 1888, by the Rev. Dr. James Solomon Russell, a newly-ordained deacon in the Protestant Episcopal Church. Located south of Petersburg, VA, and nestled between Interstate 85 and Highway 58 along rolling hills in Lawrenceville, Virginia, the Saint Paul's was incorporated in 1890. Dr. Russell became the first principal of the institution, then know as the Saint Paul's Normal and Industrial School by the Virginia Assembly. On the first day of class in 1888, the school had fewer than a dozen students in attendance. Dr. Russell remained the principal of Saint Paul’s Normal until his retirement forty years later in 1928.
Dr. Russell argued that a school was needed to train African American teachers in Virginia and across the South. Although many other black colleges had been founded with the same mission, Russell believed that more institutions were needed to carry on this work and that the Episcopal Church should support this endeavor.
Despite the early desire to train teachers, Saint Paul’s earliest students were in enrolled in what was essentially a vocational high school that taught basic skills and trades. A collegiate department of teacher training was finally established in 1922 and accredited by the Virginia
At that time, Saint Paul’s Normal and Industrial School trained teachers for the segregated schools of Virginia as well as the neighboring states of Maryland and North Carolina.
In 1941 the institution adopted a new name, Saint Paul’s Polytechnic Institute, when the state granted it the authority to offer a four-year program. The first bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 1944. By 1957 the institution adopted its present name, Saint Paul’s College of Virginia, to reflect its liberal arts and teacher education curricula.
Saint Paul’s was a predominately African American college, however, it had been open to a diverse popoulation. In September 2009 it had an enrollment of 681 students. Saint Paul’s College offered degrees in liberal arts, social sciences, education, business, mathematics, and natural sciences. It also maintained the Single Parent Support System (SPSS), a unique on-campus residential educational program specifically designed for single-parent households with two or fewer children under the age of nine. This program allowed single mothers to obtain college degrees, without the comfort of on-site parenting.
In June 2012, St. Paul’s College lost its accreditation from the college's regional accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges due to financial and other institutional concerns of effectiveness. Saint Paul’s closed on June 30, 2013. In 2017, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which had assumed ownership of most of the former campus, sold the property to Xinhua Education.