The Cornland School Project

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A Restoration Project Worth Supporting

By BARBARA RUSSEL

If the mention of a one-room school house conjures up visions of “Little House on the Prairie” you may be surprised to know that one exists today on Benefit Road, in southern Chesapeake.   It is Cornland School, built in 1902, and it was a school for rural African-American children for 50 years until it and several other rural schools were consolidated into Southeastern Elementary.    The building has sat, basically unused, for the past 60 years, and now a group of interested citizens is trying to restore it.

Cornland School

Why is this building worthy of restoration?  First, of course, it is an interesting historical relic which has been listed as one of Preservation Virginia’s most endangered historic sites.  It is the oldest pre-Rosenwald school building in our area, a perfect, if derelict, example of the iconic one-room school house.  It is small and simple.  When it was built, it had no electricity and no indoor plumbing, and it was heated by a wood-burning stove in the middle of the floor.  The teacher kept the fire going while teaching all seven grades.   The students walked to school and studied from hand-me-down books.   Many could attend school only when the weather was too cold or too rainy for farming, but they knew the value of an education. 

Second, the building should be restored because of what it represents, the earliest efforts to educate African-Americans in our city.   While the present building dates to 1902, we know that there was an earlier school building close by.   Records indicate that there were three schools for African-American children in the Pleasant Grove District of Norfolk County as early as 1871; Cornland’s predecessor is believed to be one.   Local legend says freed slaves who treasured the opportunity to educate their children built it on land donated by Israel Foreman.  By 1885, official documents begin recording the names of the teachers in the school.  A restored Cornland School would honor the roots of African-American education while reminding us of how far we have come.

Cornland School Foundation is a non-profit corporation whose members include retired and active school employees, members of Chesapeake Historic Preservation Committee, the owners of the property where the building is located, and other interested citizens.   The committee welcomes new members and invites everyone to visit their web site:  www.cornlandfoundation.com for more information.

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One Response to The Cornland School Project

  1. Charles Rippel Reply

    June 7, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    What a wonderful project! I’ve lived perhaps 4 miles down Benefit Road, off West for 20 years and have driven by the quaint building many times. My wife and I knew it was an older building, I thought it a small farm house or perhaps a some other kind of building. We drove by the site tonight and I saw the sign placed out front for the first time and was thrilled !

    I’d like to volunteer a couple skills. The gallery could use some pictures. I am a published railroad photographer with pro gear and would be happy to photograph the building as a project. Second, myself and a friend enjoy relic recovery. Depending on the real size of the grounds, we’d probably approach the school by griding off the grounds with string (temporary) then searching each grid. The goal would be to recover period metal and other objects that might be on or (in) the grounds. They would make a great display in the school as the restoration matures.

    PS, I wonder where the other, older building might be? There is an old Church (there is a date in the Cornerstone) located on Lake Drummond Parkway, near the southern end. I’m wondering if the first school may have been located there?

    Respectfully
    Chuck Rippel

    Herring Ditch Road
    Chesapeake, VA
    995-3771 (Cell)

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