Written by Naomi Smith
On Saturday, October 24, the Columbia Rosenwald School celebrated its restoration and Grand Re-Opening. It was a sunny and exciting day, made possible by the hard work and generosity of the West Columbia, TX community, and larger support from organizations such like the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Lowe’s, among others.
The restoration project was a long and challenging one. The school was discovered in 1995, while being used as a hay barn. It took 14 years to raise the necessary funding and implement our plans. The first step was to move the building across town to its new home adjacent to the historical museum prior to beginning the restoration.
To date, 85 alumni who attended the school from 1921 to 1948 have been identified. About 15 still live in West Columbia or nearby cities and towns and most were in attendance at the re-opening of the school. With nearly 600 people in there in all, the day kicked off with tours of the museum and school, followed by Gospel music from the Apostolic Church choir, and students from Barrow and West Columbia elementary schools singing songs from the 1920s. A hot dog lunch was donated for the entire crowd, and then the ribbon cutting and rededication began. Representatives from both Lowe’s and the National Trust spoke at the event.
The building is now filled with school furnishings from the 1920’s and will serve as West Columbia’s first children’s museum. The children that have visited are fascinated to see what life was for their great-grandparents’ generation so many years ago.
When Julius Rosenwald dreamed of creating this school building program, he wanted blacks and whites, rich and poor, farmers and bankers to work together to raise money and help to build the schools. I’m so pleased that we have come full circle in 2009 to restore the school. Our entire community has rallied together for this project and Mr. Rosenwald's vision has been realized, and the building will once again be used to educate our children.
The Columbia Rosenwald School received a $50,000 grant in 2009, part of a larger, $1,000,000 annual donation from Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation to fund historic preservation projects throughout the country. Since 2006, Lowe’s has generously contributed $4M to fund 53 preservation and restoration projects across the country, including 33 Rosenwald School buildings.
Guest blogger, Naomi Smith is a Board Member of the Columbia Historical Museum and served as the Chair of the Columbia Rosenwald Steering Committee.
For more information on the National Trust’s Rosenwald Schools Initiative: