Funds being raised for Kent County African American School Museum

    While browsing through the website of the Kent County News today, I came across an article that caught my attention.  Funds are being raised for an African American school in Worton Point that has been turned into a museum.  The newspaper did a good job with this article, which I’ve pasted below.  Be sure to check it out!  I’ve never been to the Museum, but I would love to visit it!  It’s good to know that people are working to help document this important era in U.S History.



Funds sought for schoolhouse museum

by Craig O’Donnell
Published: Thursday, February 5, 2009 11:28 AM CST
CHESTERTOWN – The old song goes, “Brother, can you spare a dime?”

Copyright © 2009 – The Kent County News

Economic times may be tough, but one of the county’s small museums is reaching out to the community in order to restore and preserve a powerful symbol of the segregation era.

The African American Schoolhouse Museum in Worton Point is one of the few left in Maryland. Its message is that, even in days of legal segregation, education was one of the ways that Kent County African Americans developed and maintained their community.

The African American Heritage Council’s recent letter hopes to “draw attention to the building and the programming that comes out of the schoolhouse museum,” Karen Somerville said Tuesday.

She is the executive director of the nonprofit heritage council. Aside from operating the Worton Point museum in a one-room school, it delivers school presentations and organizes a Heritage Festival.

The first one in 2006 was part of Chestertown’s tricentennial, and Somerville said she is grateful for the budget from the C-300 Committee.

The next one is in June.

While successful, she said, the Heritage Festival only breaks even. “We’re not finishing in the red, but there’s nothing left over” for the next festival. Somerville is grateful for the town’s help. “The town has been extremely supportive with cleanup, permits, that sort of thing.” The heritage council budgets about $12,000 for the weekend festival.

“It is a community event, it’s about the structure of the community. It’s loved by the community,” said Somerville. There is no admission charge to the museum or the festival.

The all-volunteer heritage council has been active for more than a decade, Somerville said, but generally donations have been modest. “The funds we get, we need to be prudent how we spend them.”

She said the festival is flexible and can shrink or grow as the budget dictates, but the schoolhouse restoration needs to have a kitty before the major work begins.

“This is the first time we’ve sent a letter at this scale,” she said. The idea is to create a pool of “funds for the upkeep of the building,” starting with paying for “the little things you would do to help preserve it. Interest is coming from a lot of different directions.”

Somerville said the schoolhouse has been adopted by the Sophie Kerr Questers.

And, all the proceeds from donations at the Feb. 12 Chester River Chorale concert will go to the schoolhouse museum. That would be a good time to spare a dime, or better, a ten-spot.

In February 2008 the heritage council got a grant for an outdoor interpretive sign. The money came from the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area mini-grant program.

Money budgeted by the county commissioners was used for small directional signs several years ago.

Just recently, large brown state-sponsored tourism directional signs have appeared along highways nearby.

The schoolhouse celebrates the people who were educated there and teachers who worked there.

Photographs and oral histories are posted on the walls and the original chalkboards are intact. The red iron hand pump and metal sink are still in the schoolroom’s southeast corner.

It was inventoried in 2003 by the University of Delaware Center for Historic Architecture and Design. A project funded by the Maryland Historical Trust located, photographed, measured and described some of Maryland’s African-American communities’ architecture such as churches, houses and schools.

Somerville said that she expects the group to apply to put the schoolhouse itself on the county’s historic register.

By listing the African-American schoolhouse, her group would be able to apply for certain state preservation grants and loans.

Under the state’s preservation program, a commercial entity or a private citizen can receive a 20-percent tax rebate on approved restoration work.

Although a nonprofit organization does not pay taxes, the state will give a 20-percent cash rebate after the restoration is completed. The work can include structural repairs and modernizing a building’s climate control equipment.

The school is at 11730 St. James–Newtown Rd, west of Worton. It can be reached from Route 298 by either Smithville Road or St. James–Newtown Road.

Call 410-810-1416 to speak with Somerville about a donation. Checks can be sent to African American Schoolhouse Museum and Heritage Council, c/o Karen Somerville, 23620 New Town Rd., Worton MD 21678.


~ by Kyle Dixon on February 8, 2009.

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