Preserving Huntersville history

Published 9:07 pm Tuesday, September 9, 2014

There’s little question the Rosenwald School that once stood in Huntersville had some historical value.

The building was one of more than 5,000 such structures built for black students across 15 southern sates, beginning in 1917, through the generosity of the late Julius Rosenwald, then president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., who established the fund that paid for the schools. The Huntersville school, built in 1930 and 1931, was named for its first principal, Joseph S. Gibson, and it was one of the last Rosewald schools built in Virginia, as the construction program ended in 1932.

Clearly the school had significance to the Huntersville community, and in a perfect world, it might have been spared the crush of development and turned into a museum or preserved in some other way that would have given people in the area a way to learn the lessons that it could still teach.

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But this is not a perfect world, and saving the school was never really a possibility. It was torn down three months ago to make room for three new houses.

But all was not lost. On Saturday, a group of area residents with an interest in the school’s historical value gathered at its former site to celebrate the unveiling of a historical marker commemorating the school.

Among those attending the unveiling was Catherine Ward-Eppes, 97, a former student at the school, who recalled a teacher there who had been instrumental in her educational attainment. The marker, she said, will inspire children to “think about how far we’ve come … and that we should be on our way upward, not backward.”

Losing the school may have felt like a temporary step backward to those who loved and cherished it, but the marker, with its printed history of the site, could prove to be even more of an inspiration to future generations than an old building without clear context.

History should well remember the generosity and compassion of Julius Rosenwald. The new marker in Huntersville will help ensure that he’s not forgotten in Suffolk.