Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Historic school to reopen for Heritage Days

Aging Boyds Negro School renovated with community’s help

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Elaine Fors-MacKellar, president of the Boyds Historical Society, talks about school desks in the Boyds Negro School, which will reopen after renovations next week.
The floor is new, as is the door and the fresh coat of paint covering the walls. Now, after two years of renovations, the historic Boyds Negro School appears to have not aged a day since it first opened in 1895.

The one-room schoolhouse, which served black children for 40 years at the turn of the 20th century, was shuttered in late 2006 when a noticeable sag in the middle of the floor led to the discovery of severe termite damage and rot in the support joists, which rest on the ground. The building’s owner and operator since 1981, the nonprofit Boyds Historical Society, cleared out the dead swallows and tore up the weakened floorboards with the help of Our House, a residential job-training center for at-risk teenagers in Brookeville.

‘‘When people came in, you had to go left or you had to go right because the floor in the center had caved in,” Elaine Fors-MacKellar, president of the group, said Monday as she surveyed the inside of the rehabilitated structure. ‘‘We’ve gotten it back into pretty much where it was.”

Thanks to the help of volunteers and Bethesda-based Clark Enterprises Inc., which Fors-MacKellar estimated donated about $5,000 of materials and labor, the school will reopen to the public for the county’s annual Heritage Days June 28-29. The historical society expects it will have paid $2,500 when it finishes the work, which includes installing shelving and rebuilding the front steps.Other additions include a new ceiling (the original was speckled with mold and mildew) and a removable wheelchair ramp donated by a Boyds resident. The renovations were done in a way that left the building’s historic features unchanged – the wooden floor came from a structure of the same age in nearby Barnesville, and the door is a replica of the architecture of the time.

‘‘We still need to get Frederick Douglass back on the wall, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of adhering to the original,” Fors-MacKellar said, pointing to an empty spot toward the front of the classroom where a portrait of the Eastern Shore-born abolitionist would be mounted.

In addition to workers from Our House and Clark Enterprises, Boyds residents volunteered, including 79-year-old Betty Hawkins, a lifelong Boyds resident who painted and hauled bags of gravel, according to Maggie Bartlett, vice president of the historical society.

‘‘This has been work that everybody’s participated in,” Bartlett said. ‘‘...People heard about what was happening at the school, and they just showed up with a shovel.”

The group hopes that, once the last few fixes are finished, the Boyds Negro School will be open to the public once a month, Fors-MacKellar said. The group is also working on digitally archiving several fireproof safes worth of documents and photographs, and it recently finished a brochure and map of 20 historical sites in Boyds, including St. Mark’s United Methodist Church and the Boyds Country Store.

‘‘We’re really excited because so many people think all we do is the school,” Bartlett said. ‘‘There’s just so much history here.”