Former all-black school in Sykesville celebrated as a `state treasure'

Maryland Historical Trust awards grant to assist in building's restoration

August 01, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Ruth Gaither, 77, smiled as she stared quietly at the one-room schoolhouse -- so timeworn that its wooden construction was sun-bleached and splintered.

Sitting in a metal chair in front of the vacant Sykesville Colored School House on Friday, Gaither recalled her years in first through fifth grades at one of Carroll County's segregated schools, a landmark that is the latest addition to the Save Maryland's Treasures program.

"We had a potbelly stove and carried water up from a well," the thin, retired Sykesville cook said.

Gaither, who lives in a house less than 1,000 feet from the school, said the 25 students, of various ages and grade levels, all had to use outhouses and shared the same teacher.

The nearly century-old schoolhouse was designated as the July Treasure of the Month by the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000 -- an agency that asks Marylanders to nominate buildings, artifacts, monuments, documents and sites they believe to be historical treasures.

Under the direction of state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the commission's chairman, the tiny schoolhouse was the 185th item placed into the state treasures program. The ceremony was held next to the school Friday morning.

In addition to Gaither and her family members -- a daughter, sister and grandchildren -- Schaefer, state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon and state Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick attended the event.

"These are living classrooms for our children," Grasmick said after the event. "This is more than appreciating a one-room schoolhouse, but what sort of circumstances children had to go through to get an education."

Despite the hot and humid weather, nearly 100 neighbors, preservationists, and politicians crowded under a giant yellow striped tent. People fanned themselves and sipped free refreshments while listening to Dixon reminisce about his experiences at some of Carroll County's all-black schools.

A Sykesville children's choir and a local musician playing a jazzy rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," also performed.

During her speech, Grasmick talked about the school being part of Sykesville history since 1903, "when three people from the AfricanAmerican community went to the town of Sykesville and asked that this school be built."

Grasmick promised the crowd that "history will never be dead as long as this building exists." Under the terms of the Save Maryland's Treasures program, the site will be renovated and reborn as a museum.

The Maryland Historical Trust has approved a grant of $32,646 to the Sykesville Development Corp. to oversee the restoration.

Two community forums will be held in Sykesville to solicit ideas from residents about what sorts of changes need to be made to the schoolhouse.

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