His­tor­i­cal high­way marker going up at for­mer Wash­ing­ton Rosen­wald School

School for African Amer­i­cans closed when county schools were de­seg­re­gated

Rappahannock News - - COUNTRYSID­E - By John Mccaslin Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

Eight new his­tor­i­cal high­way mark­ers have been au­tho­rized by the Com­mon­wealth of Vir­ginia — one of which will be erected on Pied­mont Av­enue in the town of Wash­ing­ton, draw­ing at­ten­tion to the for­mer Wash­ing­ton Rosen­wald School.

Wash­ing­ton Rosen­wald School was built in 1924 after the Par­ents’ Civic League, a lo­cal African Amer­i­can or­ga­ni­za­tion, do­nated land to the school dis­trict. Financial con­tri­bu­tions to con­struct the two-teacher school came from the black community ($1,200), the county ($1,600), and the Julius Rosen­wald Fund ($700), which also sup­plied the building plans, ac­cord­ing to the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of His­toric Re­sources.

The long-aban­doned school, where dur­ing seg­re­ga­tion many of the county’s African Amer­i­cans received their ed­u­ca­tions, is lo­cated at 267 Pied­mont Av­enue. The road­side marker will likely be erected by VDOT di­rectly in front of the school, Vir­ginia His­toric Re­sources spokesman Randy Jones told the Rap­pa­han­nock News this week.

Wil­liam Met­calf, who re­sides on Pied­mont Av­enue and owns the old Wash­ing­ton school, is listed as the forth­com­ing marker’s spon­sor.

The marker will read:

Wash­ing­ton Rosen­wald School: Wash­ing­ton School was built here ca. 1924 to serve African Amer­i­can stu­dents. The Par­ents’ Civic League, a lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion of African Amer­i­cans, con­veyed the land to the dis­trict school board. Con­tri­bu­tions for the two-teacher building came from the black community ($1,200), Rap­pa­han­nock County ($1,600), and the Julius Rosen­wald Fund ($700). This fund, es­tab­lished by the pres­i­dent of Sears, Roe­buck, and Co., and in­spired by the work of Booker T. Wash­ing­ton, helped build more than 5,000 schools for black stu­dents between 1917 and 1932. Wash­ing­ton School closed in the mid-1960s, and county schools were de­seg­re­gated by 1968. The school is listed on the Na­tional Regis­ter of His­toric Places.

Topics cov­ered by the other seven newly ap­proved and forth­com­ing his­tor­i­cal high­way mark­ers in­clude the era of James River bateau­men; two Lee County na­tives who were ex­pert at code-break­ing and en­cryp­tion dur­ing World War II and the Cold War; and a New­port News ap­pren­tice train­ing school for the ship­build­ing trades.

The marker “James River Bateau­men” will rise in Rich­mond and rec­ol­lect the era from the 1770s through the mid-1800s, when bateaux plied the James River trans­port­ing goods between the cap­i­tal and points west. The era of bateau­men on the river waned after 1840, when the James River and Kanawha Canal was com­pleted to Lynch­burg. “Crews of three men, of­ten free or en­slaved African Amer­i­cans, per­formed the dif­fi­cult and some­times dan­ger­ous work of pol­ing and steer­ing the long, nar­row boats,” the marker will read. Bateaux car­ry­ing to­bacco, grains, iron ore, coal, and other com­modi­ties to Rich­mond helped to make the city an in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial hub.

“Lee County Code Breakers” re­calls Frank B. Rowlett and Gene Grabeel who grew up in Rose Hill. Rowlett led a U.S. Army Sig­nal In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice team that in 1940 cracked the Ja­panese diplo­matic ci­pher ma­chine known as PURPLE. He was also in­stru­men­tal in de­sign­ing an Amer­i­can en­cryp­tion ma­chine that the Axis never de­coded dur­ing World War II. Gabreel was one of two crypt­an­a­lysts whose decades of work, be­gun in 1943, “painstak­ingly de­ci­phered en­crypted Soviet com­mu­ni­ca­tions and exposed a net­work of Soviet spies in the United States,” in the forth­com­ing marker’s words.

“The Ap­pren­tice School” in New­port News re­lays that the New­port News Ship­build­ing and Dry Dock Com­pany, founded in 1886, had an in­for­mal ap­pren­tice train­ing pro­gram in place by the 1890s and es­tab­lished a for­mal train­ing school in 1919 for ship­build­ing trades. One of the na­tion’s fore­most builders of mil­i­tary and com­mer­cial ships, the com­pany’s school em­pha­sizes crafts­man­ship, schol­ar­ship, and lead­er­ship, and op­er­ates to­day, having grad­u­ated more than 10,000 stu­dents.

“Long Hun­ters” also slated for Lee County de­scribes hun­ters who left home for many months at a time to pur­sue game be­yond the lim­its of early white set­tle­ment in western Vir­ginia dur­ing the 1700s. Hunt­ing parties, of­ten form­ing in the Hol­ston River val­ley, headed west to set up base camps from which they hunted and ex­plored present-day Ken­tucky and Ten­nessee. The Chero­kee, Shawnee, and other Na­tive Amer­i­cans vi­o­lently re­sisted long hun­ters’ use of their tra­di­tional hunt­ing ter­ri­tory.

In Pu­laski County, “New Dublin Pres­by­te­rian Church” re­calls that the church’s con­gre­ga­tion is one of the old­est in South­west Vir­ginia, con­sist­ing of 45 fam­i­lies by 1769. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War of­fi­cer Col. Joseph Cloyd do­nated the land for the first sanctuary, built in 1781. In the mid-1800s church mem­bers in­cluded en­slaved African Amer­i­cans. The church is af­fil­i­ated with the May 9, 1864, Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain and its

ceme­tery con­tains the graves of vet­er­ans from the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. The present sanctuary, the third on the site, dates to around 1875.

In Goochland County, “Land Con­ser­va­tion in Vir­ginia” will be the fo­cus of a new marker. In 1966 the Gen­eral Assem­bly en­acted Vir­ginia’s OpenS­pace Land Act to pro­mote land con­ser­va­tion. James M. Ball Jr. granted the first open-space ease­ment to the Vir­ginia Outdoors Foun­da­tion, a state agency. He then con­veyed his own­er­ship of the 104-acre prop­erty to the Univer­sity of Rich­mond for use as an out­door class­room and lab­o­ra­tory.

Fi­nally, be­sides the Rap­pa­han­nock site, another marker high­light­ing African Amer­i­can schools will draw at­ten­tion to the “Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Carver High School” in Chester­field County, es­tab­lished in 1948. Con­sol­i­dat­ing two previous seg­re­gated black high schools, the school op­er­ated for 22 years as the county’s only public high school for African Amer­i­can stu­dents and served as a so­cial hub for the black community. It closed in 1970, when the county finished im­ple­ment­ing its de­seg­re­ga­tion plan.

All eight mark­ers were ap­proved by the Vir­ginia Board of His­toric Re­sources, which is au­tho­rized to des­ig­nate new his­tor­i­cal mark­ers, at its April 17 quar­terly board meet­ing in Rich­mond. Typ­i­cally, it can take up­wards of three months or more be­fore new mark­ers are erected and ded­i­cated by their spon­sors. The man­u­fac­tur­ing cost of each new high­way marker is cov­ered by its spon­sor.

The Vir­ginia high­way marker pro­gram, which be­gan in 1927 with in­stal­la­tion of the first his­tor­i­cal mark­ers along U.S. 1, is con­sid­ered the old­est such pro­gram in the na­tion. Cur­rently there are more than 2,600 of­fi­cial state mark­ers, most of which are main­tained by the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion, ex­cept in those lo­cal­i­ties out­side of VDOT’s authority.

The mark­ers are erected not to “honor” their sub­jects but rather to ed­u­cate and in­form the public about a per­son, place, or event of re­gional, state, or na­tional im­por­tance. In this re­gard, mark­ers are not memo­ri­als.


Wash­ing­ton Rosen­wald School on Pied­mont Av­enue, as seen this week, will soon have a state his­tor­i­cal marker placed out front.

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