Submitted By Dr. Ella Ward
Special to the Guide
Chesapeake City Council unanimously voted to approve $400,000 for the Cornland School Relocation Project at its June 23rd meeting. Councilwoman Dr. Ella Ward, Cornland School Foundation Board Chair, has been working to preserve the one-room school built in 1902 by freed slaves for more than 10 years. The Cornland School has been placed on the Virginia Register and the National Register as a Historic Place to be preserved. The school is currently located on the private property of Mr. and Mrs. Randolph and Wanza Snead at 2315 Benefit Road.
The school will be relocated to a 12 acre site on Glencoe Street (off Route 17) to become the first phase in the creation of the first African American Historical District in Chesapeake and the Hampton Roads Region. The funds appropriated by City Council were recommended by the city’s Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Director, Mr. Michael Barber, and City Manager Christopher Price. Additional phases of the African American Historic District will include the restoration of the badly deteriorated Superintendent’s House, a path to the Dismal Swamp Canal, a tribute to the former “Marooned People’s colony” which housed runaway slaves, a Visitor’s Center, and a walking trail.
Crestwood High School Alumni Association members, under the leadership of President Kenneth Chesson and Mrs. Inez Randolph recently visited the Cornland School and donated $700 to assist the Foundation with the school’s restoration once the building is moved to its new location. Other Crestwood Alumni members who assisted with the program and the gift included Mrs. Alma Williams and Mr. Vernon Williams. Many Crestwood Alums and their ancestors attended the Cornland School before it closed in 1953.
Cornland School Foundation, Inc. is a 501-C3 nonprofit charity that needs funds to assist with the restoration of the school as a museum to show residents , students, and visitors what it was like for African Americans to gain an education in grades 1-7, with all 7 subjects taught by one teacher in one room in Norfolk County (Chesapeake) from 1902 to 1953 when the school was closed and Crestwood High School was built along with Southeastern Elementary School. The 12-member Board of Directors had raised nearly $35,000 prior to the city’s approval in order to help make repairs to the building to prevent further deterioration and to help stabilize the 117-year old structure
Dr. George Reed, the Board’s newly appointed Executive Director, has worked hard to secure a $24,000 grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation to assist with the school’s relocation and restoration. Chesapeake’s Sherriff Jim O’Sullivan and his deputies have donated many volunteer hours to help stabilize the current building. Former Grassfield High School students under the direction of their teacher, Mrs. Lee Mongol, conducted oral histories and documented histories from 16 of the 21 Cornland School Alumni who still live in Chesapeake during a Reunion coordinated by the Cornland School Foundation Board in 2015.
The Foundation needs more funds to help with the restoration phase once the school is moved to its new location. Checks may be made to Cornland School Foundation, Inc., and contributions may also be made on line by using credit cards or PayPal. ALL donations to the Cornland School Foundation, Inc. are tax deductible.