SNOW HILL – After being gutted and used as a maintenance garage for decades, the county’s lone remaining Rosenwald school today provides visitors with a glimpse of local African American history.
The Germantown School, built in 1922, reopened as a museum in 2013. It now offers visitors the chance to step inside a piece of the past.
“We use this building for educational purposes, culture programs, heritage programs, small parties, meetings such and other community events,” said Barbara Purnell, president of the Germantown School Heritage Center.
Last Thursday, the school welcomed the Republican Women of Worcester County for the group’s annual red, white and blue luncheon. Dozens were in attendance to hear Purnell talk about the history of the building and the process of restoring it. The two-room school was built in 1923 and was attended by children in grades one through seven up until the mid-1950s. In the 1960s, Purnell said the board of education sold the school to the county. It was gutted and overhead doors were installed so it could be used as a garage for county vehicles.
When a former student moved back to the area, he encouraged the community to restore the school, which Purnell said was the only Rosenwald school left in Worcester County.
“We had a meeting with the commissioners they granted us a deed in October 2002,” Purnell said.
It still took 12 years to restore the building. The group of about 40 people behind the effort raised money through countless fundraisers, from golf tournaments to yard sales. She said the Worcester County Commissioners also provided $100,000 toward the project.
Since the school was completed in 2013, it’s hosted various cultural events and heritage programs. It’s also rented out by community groups on the weekends. And while the restored building has now been open several years, Purnell said its connections were still working on various improvements around the property. Picnic tables have been installed under the pavilion and apples trees have been planted as an effort to pay homage to Berlin’s orchards—operated by Harrisons Nurseries—that many students’ parents worked in during the first half of the 20th century. At last week’s luncheon, the Republican Women donated a bench, built by Tim Gallagher, to be placed in the school’s orchard.
“We thank you so much for that donation,” Purnell said. “We’d like to have the bench out there and we’d like to put some type of communication system out there where you can push a button and you hear the voices of the students.”
She said the Germantown School Heritage Center was in the process of searching for more members to aid in the school’s mission. She said many of the original 40 who helped get the effort underway were seniors and have since passed.
“We’re trying to recruit younger people to carry on,” she said. “It’s been a little hard.”
Following Purnell’s presentation about the school, Dr. Clara Small, a retired Salisbury University professor, talked about African Americans in the Civil War. She said slightly less than 9,000 African American troops came from Maryland. More than 600 of them were from Worcester County. Small said data was currently being collected and compiled regarding the Eastern Shore’s African American Civil War soldiers in an effort to provide their ancestors with information.
“There is history here,” she said. “As a result we must do everything within our power to preserve it. To spread the word about it. To proclaim it to the heavens and to pass it on to the next generation so that they in turn can pass it on and instill pride in ourselves and our next generations. Maybe this will be a catalyst for our young people to take an interest in their future. If there is no memory of the past that a people has pride in and desire to preserve, then there is no hope for the future and the next generations.”
Beth Rodier, president of the Republican Women, said the group always appreciated the opportunity to learn about local history and was thrilled to be doing so in the Germantown School.
“This is such an appropriate place to be,” she said.