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What has become of former black schools?

May 17, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

HANCOCK - Roland Lanehart Sr. thinks he was in second grade when the "colored" children started attending his school on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hancock.

Before that, the black children went to school in a one-room schoolhouse on Main Street, said Lanehart, 56, who remembers attending Sunday school there after a church bought the building in 1960.

Now the former schoolhouse at 163 E. Main St. is an office for Roland's Garage and Used Cars.

"I just wish I could be rich to make it like it was. That's what people would dream of," Lanehart said.

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As it is with many of the black schoolhouses in Washington County, little is known about this one. People often ask him about the schoolhouse's history, but Lanehart said he doesn't have much to tell them.

A former student stopped by last summer and told him some stories and where she sat in class.

A photo album kept in Washington County Free Library's Western Maryland Room shows pictures of the county's schools circa 1920, including black schools in Sharpsburg, Hancock, Hagerstown, Clear Spring and Williamsport.

The Hagerstown school depicted - North Street School - is now Memorial Recreation Center on West North Avenue, said Leon Brumback, a retired schoolteacher who researches the history of local black schools. The newer North Street School next door is now the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.

Another picture in the photo album shows a black school in Williamsport that now is a home.

Katrina Gatrell, 28, lives at 16 S. Artizan St. with her husband and three children. Her family rents the home from her parents, Donna and John Jennings, who live in Florida.

"It was a big selling point for my mom when she bought it, because it's historic," Gatrell said.

The building has been expanded and renovated, but there is a familiar look between the circa-1920 picture and the current house.

A former black school that used to be a home is near the entrance to Fort Frederick State Park, Park Manager Ralph Young said.

The Friends of Fort Frederick State Park Inc. might do some restoration work on the former schoolhouse and hold meetings there, Young said.

A few years ago, park officials removed the historic building from its rental house program, Young said.

The building was a black school during the late 19th century and early 20th century, educating children in the Big Pool area, according to a Maryland Historical Trust inventory of historical properties. It was turned into a home in 1914 and bought by the state in 1973.

A former black school in Sharpsburg now is a private home, and the deteriorated Tolson's Chapel on East High Street is believed to be the original structure used as a black schoolhouse in the 19th century, said historian Edie Wallace with Paula S. Reed & Associates.

Save Historic Antietam Foundation owns the chapel and members hope to restore it, treasurer Denise Troxell said.

In West Virginia, two former black schools are used to house educational offices.

In Charles Town, W.Va., the former Page Jackson High School on Mordington Avenue now serves as the Jefferson County Board of Education office.

In Martinsburg, W.Va., the former Sumner-Ramer School houses several services and offices, including archives about the former black school and educational offices, Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon said.

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