Colored School lives as history Lutherville facility in black enclave restored as museum


When Walter Brown trudged down the unpaved lane to Colored School No. 24 in Lutherville in 1918, he joined generations of black children who were taught in segregated facilities.

But that didn't stop the Lutherville children from learning their ABCs from teachers such as stern Miss Bea, who summoned the children by vigorously ringing a bell, or Mr. Harris, who kept his charges in line with the whack of a ruler.

"I got a good education," said Brown, 86, who still lives in the historically black neighborhood off West Seminary Avenue that was settled after the Civil War.

Today, the historic Lutherville schoolhouse -- built in 1909 as one room and expanded to two classrooms in 1919 -- will reopen as a memorial to those early days on School Lane, with a ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m.

Visitors will be able to step into a re-created classroom, complete with the original blackboard, a pot-bellied stove, a few antique desks and a number of turn-of-the-century primers.

"It was a time that wasn't our best in Baltimore County. But nevertheless, it was our history," said Towson Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley, who will speak at today's event. "It's important to remember segregated education. Sometimes, we want to shut our eyes."

The opening of the restored schoolhouse -- Baltimore County's first black school museum -- fulfills the dream of Helen and Arthur Chapman of Philadelphia, who rescued the once-boarded-up landmark from destruction.

Preserving history

"We're trying to preserve its history," said Mr. Chapman, 62, a retired major-league baseball scout who was hanging paintings in the room yesterday. "It will give us an opportunity to offer tours of the building."

Five years ago, the dilapidated structure was a breath away from the wrecker's ball when the couple intervened at the urging of Mrs. Chapman's cousin, Marie Brown Jackson. The former student lived across from the school, which educated pupils from first to eighth grade.

Jackson died four years ago at age 93 before the work was finished. But Mrs. Chapman is certain her cousin -- described as a "ball of fire" by Riley -- is keeping track of the renovation.

"I think she's smiling down on us," said Mrs. Chapman, 60, an energetic grandmother of seven who teaches special education and social studies in Philadelphia.

Fred Spigler, who met Jackson while both served with the Lutherville Community Association, said, "Marie was concerned and unhappy [the schoolhouse] might be torn down. She thought it ought to remain and be a pivotal part of the black community."

In 1992, the community group urged the county to take control of the derelict schoolhouse from the county Board of Education. The school system had been using the building for storage since the school was closed in 1955 when public schools were integrated.

Dilapidated eyesore

Over the years, a tree crushed the roof. The chimney caved in. The elements and animals crept in. The building became an eyesore, neighbors say.

Eventually, with County Council approval, the old building was sold to the Chapmans for $1 and their promise to restore it.

"That building was waiting for me," Mrs. Chapman said. "It was calling me."

Chapman and her husband have poured almost $120,000 of their own money into the project they call "a work in progress." In addition, the Chapmans, who have been married for 40 years and have three children, have transformed the other classroom into an apartment for themselves.

They plan to commute frequently from their home in Philadelphia to carry on their mission in Lutherville. Mrs. Chapman envisions opening a library as well as teaching children and others about black history.

"I want people to see how the colored how black people endured back in those days," Mrs. Chapman said. "They did very well in learning. I want people to learn what it was they endured."

In the early 1880s, the county began educating black children in Lutherville in a $2-a-month rented room on Bellona Avenue, although at the time, the village was primarily a summer retreat for wealthy city families.

In 1907, the school system bought one-third of an acre on then-unnamed School Lane to build a schoolhouse for black children. It cost $1,061.44 to put up the building, which lacked plumbing and electricity, and $37.07 for books.

A few years ago, the National Register of Historic Places placed the property on its protected list after noting that "there apparently were no other small [county] schools surviving that had been built exclusively for black students."

Pleasant memories

Former student William S. Adams, 65, who went to the school between 1939 and 1946, wrote about his experiences in a slim booklet called "Memories of Lutherville Elementary School."

Some stories are humorous. Others are poignant.

He recalls the outhouses -- "boys to the left, girls to the right" -- that attracted bees in the spring and chilly breezes in the winter. He recounts the tale of Speedo the grasshopper, which he mischievously set loose on the little girl in front of him, for which the principal gave him a whipping.

Adams, who lives in Columbia, also remembers how he and his classmates collected "milkweed pods" for the war effort after being told they would be used to make parachutes.

"There are so many pleasant memories," said Adams, whose parents, aunts and uncles also attended the little school. "It's our roots."

The ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the re-opening of Colored School No. 24, at 1426 School Lane, Lutherville, as a museum begins at 11 a.m. today. Information: 410-825-6114.

Pub Date: 6/20/98

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