Built about 1872, a structure that was also a lodge home is endangered by traffic on Route 7 in White Marsh

Historic black school to be moved, rehabbed

December 13, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

With trucks roaring past the rickety, two-story clapboard building about six feet from busy Route 7 in eastern Baltimore County, Robert Wells recalled that at least twice in recent years cars have slammed into the historic schoolhouse.

Wells said he and other members of the Union of Brothers and Sisters Fords Asbury Lodge #1 -- a benevolent association founded in 1872 to help freed slaves get settled -- grew so wary of the traffic whizzing by that they stopped meeting there three years ago when a road widening gobbled up several feet of the school's front lawn.

"I wanted more than the wall and a few feet between me and the road," said Wells, lodge vice president and a member for more than a decade.

Yesterday, state and local officials stood on an adjacent half-acre parcel that a local developer has donated to announce $125,000 in state funding to move the historic building to the lot and pave a parking area for the lodge.

"It was a dilemma -- the road needed widening, but the building needed to stay," said Lewis Gwynn, lodge president and a member for nearly 30 years. "With fair-minded people working together, we were able to reach a win-win situation for us all."

For nearly a half-century, the two-room schoolhouse called the Colored School #2 in School District 11 was where the African-American children of the eastern Baltimore County community of Loreley were taught.

Around 1874, Walter T. Allender, a local businessman, built the schoolhouse and donated it to the Baltimore County public school commissioners for use as a free school, according to state and lodge officials.

The Maryland Historical Trust, the State Highway Administration and Baltimore County worked with lodge members to save the building.

"This in many ways is one of the most important projects we've done," said state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan. "We look on this part of our history with a mixed sense. There's a sense of pride in the perseverance of the families and children who used this colored school and took advantage of it. And there's a sense of shame that this is a part of our history."

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said efforts to revitalize older parts of the county are inspired by its history.

"This preservation and restoration is showing our respect for that history," Smith said. "Look how far we've come. That's really what we're celebrating here today."

Lodge members began meeting on the second floor of the school after it opened in the late 19th century, said Gwynn, whose 90-year-old father is one of the lodge's oldest members and a former president. The lodge has about 40 members, some as young as 10, he said.

In 2003, the State Highway Administration and the county thought the building was abandoned when the state ordered the developer of a nearby 7-Eleven store to widen the roadway to create a southbound turn lane along Route 7 at Allender Road, according to state officials.

Although the turn lane was constructed within the state's right-of-way, it moved the roadway 16 feet closer to the schoolhouse. And because of the land's contour, the adjacent sidewalk juts about four feet above the building's first-floor entrance and within arm's reach of the front door.

A Phoenix, Md., company is expected to move the schoolhouse as soon as possible, depending on the weather. Lodge members plan to start renovations immediately after the move and hope to reopen it by spring.

"God knew what we needed," Gwynn said, referring to the state funding.

The state money will cover the cost of moving the building. The lodge will have to raise funds to pay for the renovations, and members said they don't know how much it will cost. The group wants to replace the building's asbestos shingles, add sewer and water facilities and restore the interior as closely as possible to its original condition, he said.

Gwynn beamed as he talked about plans to convert the building into a museum.

On the second-floor, Gywnn pointed out a painting of Abraham Lincoln that his father commissioned years ago, and a peep-hole in the door that was used to confirm a member's identity before allowing entrance.

A staircase not more than two feet wide links the floors. On the first floor, a narrow closet door just beyond the still-working kerosene heater leads to a secret doorway that opens to a crawl space where former slaves who were still indentured were given shelter, lodge members said.

Narrow wooden benches line the walls of both floors. This is where the children sat for their lessons, Gwynn said.

"You have to have history to really appreciate what you have," he said. "I'm excited about what the Lord has done for us. We're just beginning."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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