GLOUCESTER, Va. (WAVY) — A historic school building in Gloucester will receive a historical highway marker from the commonwealth later this year.
The Woodville Rosenwald School is located just off the road on Route 17 and looks like any other home. But once you go inside, the construction and collection of old school desks reminds visitors that it’s anything but ordinary.
“It’s amazing to us that it’s still standing,” said Dr. Wesley Wilson, who is the president and executive director of the Woodville Rosenwald School Foundation.
For the last couple years, the foundation has worked to not only save the building from being demolished, but restore it, according to Wilson.
It was built in 1923.
“We are bringing it back to somewhat — not exactly what it was originally — but somewhat what it looked like in 1923,” he said.
The school was one of five schools that was built for Black students in Gloucester County through the Rosenwald Foundation. A teacher cottage was also built.
More than 5,000 of these schools were built throughout the South.
“This is the last one standing here in Gloucester,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who focused on Civil War and Reconstruction period history, says he started digging into the schools in Gloucester after learning more about one of the county’s more famous men: Thomas “T.C.” Calhoun Walker.
Walker was instrumental in increasing public education in the area. Wilson says Walker traveled to Chicago to convince Julius Rosenwald to invest in the schools for the community.
“Back during Reconstruction time, we were dealing with the situation of ‘separate but equal.’ Gloucester had 22 white schools and 22 Black, but they weren’t equal, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. This was throughout the South,” he said.
Wilson says famed historian and activist Booker T. Washington worked with Julius Rosenwald, the CEO and Chair of Sears, Roebuck and Company to get the schools into the South.
Washington was also a mentor for Walker.
Wilson says that the Black community raised money to build the school. The school board also allocated money to help get the schools built.
Now, the school will continue to help educate those in the community, but this time, they aim to help more people know about Black history beyond the month of February.
“It became clear we were not able to educate ourselves, educate the community as to the real depth of Black history here in Gloucester County. This will be the place where we can do that [24/7],” he said.
The goal is to turn this place into a multi-purpose facility serving as a museum and educational spot that can be used by students, scholars and historians from around the country.
Wilson says they’re also encouraging people to donate items to put into the museum.
“We will be encouraging people who have letters, artifacts, pictures of that nature they’re squirreling away at home that in this place will be safe, secure, where they can bring and display their artifacts to the world,” he said.
Wilson says the foundation is also working to establish parking at the building. Everything, including indoor restoration, should be completed by the end of the year.
The historical marker will take a couple of months to erect.
“We’re really excited about it,” Wilson said about the future of the school.
To learn more about the Woodville Rosenwald School, click here.