Dyson to Ask Md. to Save Historic School for Blacks
By Lyndsey Layton
State Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-St. Mary's, Calvert) said he will seek $30,000 from the General Assembly this week to help restore the Wallville School, the oldest one-room segregation-era black school still standing in Calvert County.
The school, which dates from 1890 and sits on private property, has been neglected and forgotten for decades. Dyson said his interest was prompted by a Washington Post article in December.
"It's very historic and I quite frankly wasn't aware of it," said Dyson, who plans to file a bill in Annapolis later this week requesting a $30,000 bond. "It's a remarkable thing and it should be memorialized. We're damn fortunate that we have something left. We have the real thing here, let's at least protect this. This is quite a find. Not quite the Rosetta stone, but it's quite a find."
Dyson, who helped create a one-room schoolhouse museum on St. Clement's Island in St. Mary's County, said he would like to see the Wallville School restored and an interpretive center built alongside it where the public could learn about black education during segregation.
"The old Wallville School shows within the African American community, education was very important," Dyson said. "These were people just getting their freedom, and the fact that they did this -- built schools -- is just remarkable."
The December article sparked renewed interest in saving the school, said Ron Clark, an engineer for the county who has dreamed about restoring the Wallville School for years. Public support will be important because Dyson's bond bill calls for a $30,000 match from the community.
Last week, the newly formed Friends of the Old Wallville School held its first meeting to discuss strategy. The group intends to seek status as a nonprofit organization, said Kirsti Uunilah, a historic planner for the county who is offering technical advice to the group.
Clark sought a $5,000 private grant two years ago to move the Wallville School from its current site to the East-St. John Youth Center, about 10 miles to the south in Lusby. But his application was rejected and the restoration efforts fizzled, he said.
County Commissioner Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large), who works as an aide to Dyson, said she will act as an advocate for the project if the Friends of the Old Wallville School ask the county for financial help. "I hate to see these things go down," Stinnett said, referring to historical sites. "We continually lose something just because people don't know what the procedure is to get some help or what kinds of resources are available. I'm just really pleased that this is moving right along."
The Friends of the Old Wallville School plan to move the school to the East-St. John Youth Center, at the intersection of Mill Bridge and Coster roads in Lusby. The youth center, owned by the United Methodist Church, runs a year-round program for children and teenagers and would make a good site for a museum, Uunilah said. Also, the center is the site of the first parsonage built for an African American pastor, she said.
Clark said the preservation group is developing a brochure, which will be mailed to potential donors. The group also plans some fund-raising activities, including a booth at the annual African American Community Day at Jefferson Patterson Park in May. The group also will seek corporate contributions, Clark said.
He said it is unclear whether the project will cost more than the $30,000 from the state and another $30,000 raised from donations. The group plans to invite an architectural historian to inspect the school, offer guidance on how to transport and restore it and estimate the costs. If state lawmakers approve the bond bill, the Maryland Historical Trust will supervise the restoration, Uunilah said.
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