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Social and Civic Whirl

Social and Civic Whirl: ‘The Bell Ringer’ Inaugural Newsletter of The Schoolhouse Museum

The Schoolhouse Museum, located on Main Street in Smithfield, Virginia, has a rich history ingrained in the Isle Wight County community. “The Bell Ringer” Newsletter inaugural publication, Jessie B. Linyear/publisher and Millie J. Dixon/editor, gives a brief history of The Schoolhouse Museum and highlights some of the activities sponsored by the museum Board members and other patrons of the organization.

According to Sandra Lowe’ historical research, in the early 20th century, Isle of Wight County’s strong Black community demanded more educational opportunities for its youth. The leaders petitioned the county to expand the original Rosenwald School with all of the original architectural features of the original school. By 1932, enough money had been raised to build an addition to the old Rosenwald School which was located in Chuckatuck in the eastern part of Isle Wight County.

In 2001-2002 Lynn Kirk Rose, wrote Lowe, offered the gift of a 2- room schoolhouse (circa 1924) – the Christian Home School located in Chuckatuck to Dina M. Everett, former Curator of the Isle Wight Museum. Ideas of what to do with this historical gift needed to be explored. The cost of restoring the building was too much for the county, the former Director of Tourism for Smithfield and Isle of Wight Convention and Visitors Bureau, Diane Spencer Wooley, aggressively sought means to make the costly project a reality. With the 400th Anniversary of Jamestown looming on the horizon, the Jamestown 2007 Committee was seeking 5 communities for a pilot program to encourage tourism in the area. Smithfield and Isle of Wight County was one of the chosen pilot communities to encourage tourism and celebrate the 400 years of the existence of Jamestown (1607).

As Ms. Lowe continues with the story behind the establishment of THE SCHOOLHOUSE MUSEUM, she mentions the four stalwart citizens of the county who were asked to become members of The Schoolhouse Museum Steering Committee. They were Ruby W. Thompson, James B. Chapman, Sandra Lowe and Rev. James Harrison. In May 2003, other steadfast citizens became members of the Foundation. This diverse group, according to Lowe, included James “Jimmy” Brown, Henrietta Gwaltney, Henry Bradby, Lee Winslett, Sandy Schlaudecker, Pinky Hipp, Bill Sommerset, Dot Sommerset, Herb DeGraft and Roland Dixon.

The committee made plans to relocate the Schoolhouse, from the eastern part of Isle of Wight County to Smithfield; and to develop the building into an African-American History and Heritage Museum. The purpose, as Ms. Sandra Lowe wrote in her article, in “The Bell Ringer” Newsletter, would be to promote tourism; help educate the community on how public education in the county school system evolved and spread through the profiles of prominent African-Americans and professionals. She continues by stating that the future site for the schoolhouse was donated, in June 2004, by Dominion Power. The Isle of Wight community – county, town, businesses, organizations, and private donors – worked together and raised funds for the moving and restoration of the old schoolhouse. With the daunting task completed, the doors of The Schoolhouse Museum opened on May 19, 2007. This wonderful edifice showcases a “one room replica of a typical school room from the early 20th century and the other room is digitized and used as a display room.”

Since opening, the members of the museum have sponsored a National Night Out; a trip to Carter Mountain (Charlottesville); a BAZAAR; presented “A View of Ghana” with Belulah Stowe-Carey and Diana Chappell-Lewis (2012-2013 Chair of Norfolk Sister Cities; and sponsored a Martin Luther King contest, in conjunction with the Isle of Wight NAACP, honoring the legacy of Dr. King.

On February 27, 2016, the Schoolhouse Museum Board will host a Black History Month Program, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., in Williams Mission Center at Main Street Baptist Church located on Main Street, in Smithfield, Virginia. The program will celebrate Isle of Wight County history and recognize 10 individuals who have impacted the community in positive ways and acknowledge Freedom’s Continuing Saga in America. Dr. Christopher C. Bell will be the narrator and Christopher Bell, III will be a featured soloist. If you wear your African attire, you may win a prize!!

To learn more about the museum, become a member or make a donation visit To schedule a visit to The Schoolhouse Museum call (757) 365-4789 or the convention Bureau at (757) 357-5182 or 365-93339.

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