Schoolhouse Museum highway marker approved

Published 3:56 pm Thursday, December 15, 2022

Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources has approved a proposal to add a historical highway marker at the Schoolhouse Museum in Smithfield.

Virginia has erected more than 2,600 such markers along its roadways since 1927. The cast aluminum double-sided signs feature the state seal and black lettering against a silver background. Sixteen are in Isle of Wight County.

Rick Bodson, a member of the museum’s board of directors, announced plans in July to petition the state for a highway marker outside the museum. According to Bodson, the museum sign would be the first to speak to Isle of Wight’s African American history.

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According to Bodson’s application, the Schoolhouse Museum highlights the African American educational experience during the first half of the 20th century through a typical one-room structure of the era. It is housed in a 1932 addition to the Christian Home School, which once stood on the Isle of Wight side of the county’s border with Suffolk near the Chuckatuck community.

The original circa-1924 Christian Home School was built with Rosenwald funds. In the 1920s, according to the museum’s website, former Sears, Roebuck and Co. President Julius Rosenwald contributed $4.3 million ($73.6 million in 2022 dollars) to build more than 5,000 schools for Black students across the American south. Black communities raised another $4.7 million ($80.5 million in 2022 dollars) in matching funds.

The circa-1932 addition was moved in 2005 to its present site and renovated into a museum as the town’s Jamestown 2007 project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the 1607 arrival of English settlers.

The Schoolhouse Museum Board is gratified that DHR recognized the thorough and credible research in our first submission,” Bodson said. “The marker text is a joint effort with DHR staff and captures an important legacy of African American history in Isle of Wight County – a passionate commitment to education.”

The museum sign was one of seven the Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved at its quarterly meeting this month. Six of the seven signs will highlight African American history.

It will take several months to manufacture the sign and coordinate its installation with the Virginia Department of Transportation. An unveiling date has not yet been set.