Foundation nears goal to purchase Woodville

by Peter J. Teagle - Posted on Jun 05, 2019 - 02:30 PM

Photo: The T.C. Walker and Woodville/Rosenwald School Foundation is raising funds to buy and restore Woodville School. From left are board members Hank Hucles, James Newton, Wes Wilson, Bobby Ray, Brenda Mack, Randi Johnson, and UNC Chapel Hill doctoral student Colleen Betti, who is conducting an archaeological investigation of the property. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

The T.C. Walker and Woodville/Rosenwald School Foundation is raising funds to buy and restore Woodville School. From left are board members Hank Hucles, James Newton, Wes Wilson, Bobby Ray, Brenda Mack, Randi Johnson, and UNC Chapel Hill doctoral student Colleen Betti, who is conducting an archaeological investigation of the property. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

 The T.C. Walker and Woodville/Rosenwald School Foundation is closing in on a fundraising goal that will allow the group to purchase and restore historic Woodville School on Route 17 at Ordinary.

The foundation previously reached a deal with the Gloucester Economic Development Authority to buy the property with a July 23 deadline.

“We are close to that objective and expect to meet it by the anticipated closure date,” said Director Dr. Wesley Wilson. The historic school and surrounding parcel will cost the foundation $50,000.

Built in 1921, Woodville remained a school for roughly two decades before being sold to a developer who converted it to a residence, Wilson stated. The Stubbs family resided there for 40 years, when it was purchased and used as antique storage and subsequently deemed a historic property. The EDA acquired it in 2012 and created the T.C. Walker and Woodville/Rosenwald School Foundation “to act as stewards and developers of the property.”

The foundation sees the property as having potential for its historic value while also making it available as a public asset for meetings, educational activities, and displays of local African American artifacts.

“There’s a very rich history of African American history in Gloucester but you only see it once a year during Black History Month,” Wilson said. “We want to display artifacts year-round and partner with the school system” to engage students in education opportunities, he added.

Nationally, 5,300 of these so-named Rosenwald schools were built during the early 20th century to educate black Americans living in the south. Today, only around 800 remain. At one time, Gloucester had six such schools and one teacher residence, with Woodville the only remaining structure.

The system of schools and accompanying teacher’s homes and shops was the result of a partnership by Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute and Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist president of Sears, Roebuck & Co. It is estimated that, by 1928, one third of rural black students and teachers were served by Rosenwald schools. Following the 1954 decision by the Supreme Court ruling segregation in education unconstitutional, Rosenwald schools became unnecessary and were largely forgotten. 

The foundation’s long-term goals include restoring Woodville and staging a classroom complete with artifacts for the education of the county and preservation of local black history. In addition to the foundation members working on the fundraising, Colleen Betti, a doctoral student from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, is conducting an archaeological investigation of the site as part of her dissertation.

Betti’s work has already uncovered archaeological resources ranging from approximately 100 to 10,000 years old. Bottle tops and square nails have been found on one corner of the property as well as arrowheads predating European colonization. Also found were Chinese porcelain and wine bottles from when the land was part of Fairfield Plantation.

As the work to study and restore Woodville continues, the T.C. Walker and Woodville/Rosenwald School Foundation will host a wine and cheese reception honoring donors who made the expected Woodville purchase possible.

This will be held at the R.R. Moton Center at Holly Knoll, Cappahosic, from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday, June 15. In addition to foundation members and local donors, Hampton University is expected to send representatives to recognize the foundation’s efforts.