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The Voice of the Black Community

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Historic schoolhouse faces uncertain future without preservation effort
Siloam Rosenwald School in danger of falling apart
Published Saturday, December 10, 2016 1:49 am
by Herbert L. White

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission is trying to preserve Siloam Rosenwald School on John Adams Road. The estimated cost of upfitting the school in the Mallard Creek community is $150,000  and another $50,000 to move it to another location.

An historic schoolhouse is in need of a refresh and maybe a new home.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission is trying to preserve the Siloam (pronounced cy-lome) Rosenwald School on John Adams Road in University City, one of two such buildings designated a historic landmark by the agency. The commission is looking for money to preserve the structure, either on site or at a new place.

“It’s all a matter of money and it’s all a matter of priorities,” said Dan Morrill, director of the commission. “If it’s just left like it is, it is going to lose its integrity and it’s literally going to fall down. The owners do not intend to demolish the building, but they’ve not expressed any interest in spending any money on the building.”

The school, named for Siloam Presbyterian Church, located about 1.5 miles to the north, was built in the 1920s to replace the original log structure. Siloam’s history dates to 1903 when the Mecklenburg County Board of Education bought 1 acre of land from F. E. Query for $10 for the purpose of building a school for black children in the Mallard Creek area. Charlotte City Council designated the Siloam Rosenwald School a historic landmark in 2006.

“Mecklenburg County has a very rich and very longstanding African American cultural history,” Morrill said. “Unfortunately, many of the buildings and structures and sites that really document that heritage have been lost and are no longer with us.”

Rosenwald Schools were named for Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears Roebuck & Co., who joined with Tuskegee Institute President Booker T. Washington to build privately-financed schools for African Americans in the South. The Siloam Rosenwald School was built during a time when Mecklenburg County was more rural and education opportunities were limited for black students. The 1890 census revealed 6,617 African Americans between the ages of 6-21 in Mecklenburg County, with half of them enrolled in school.

George Davis, a retired Biddle Institute (now Johnson C. Smith University) professor, was tasked with leading the Rosenwald initiative in North Carolina upon his retirement from academia. In an agrarian society where black students were expected to work the soil instead of seek education opportunities, Davis recruited more Rosenwald Schools to the state than any other. His home in the Biddleville neighborhood has been restored as a historic site.

“He was the man who went all across North Carolina to convince local school boards they needed to build these schools for their black children,” Morrill said. “It’s got rich historical meaning to those who people who understand what motivated it and how it was done.”

Siloam sits on its original site at the entrance next to Mallard Creek Apartments, both of which are owned by Wilmington-based Tribute Companies.  In 2008, Tribute’s plans to restore the school were approved by the commission, but it has yet to do so.  Meanwhile, Siloam is deteriorating with its rusted tin roof and weather-beaten rickety wood steps.  The 2013 structural examination found the building capable of being moved. Restoring Siloam would cost an estimated $150,000 and moving it elsewhere would add another $50,000 to the tab.  

“The basic framework of the building, the basic guts, are still amazingly sound because those buildings were so well-built when they were put together,” Morrill said. “It is salvageable and it is not an extremely complicated building in terms of the nature of its framing and construction and so forth.”

Tribute Companies hold the key to Siloam’s future. The company has contacted the Historic Landmarks Commission about finding someone who would take the building and repurpose it.  The Billingsville Rosenwald School was returned to use in 2014 as a neighborhood center in Grier Heights.

Morrill hopes a similar fate awaits Siloam – provided someone steps forward to refurbish the building.

“History is not the past,” he said. “History is our thinking about the past.”

For information on the Siloam Rosenwald School project, email Morrill at: danmorrill2@gmail.com


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