By Peter Morrill, Curator Program Manager, Department of Natural Resources
Along the south side of Big Pool Road in Washington County, Maryland, sits a non-descript vacant house. It’s easily overlooked by passersby, but hidden beneath additions, layers of asphalt “brick” and aluminum siding, lies a 19th-century one-room schoolhouse built to serve the area’s African American community. Though it is not immediately recognizable by the casual observer as a school, a closer look reveals that much of the school’s original fabric remains intact and waiting to be restored in order to tell its story about Maryland’s racially segregated past and one of the county’s most interesting families.
In 1857 Nathan Williams, a free black man, purchased about 115 acres of land in Washington County, including the remains of the colonial Fort Frederick, and began what would become a successful farming operation. Beginning in the 1870s, the family operated a schoolhouse for local African American children; family members also taught at the school. By 1892, a 36’ by 24’ by 12’ frame school had been constructed by the county and was designated the “colored” school for the Indian Springs Election District, #11. The teacher was Charles A. Williams, and the school enrolled 14 pupils. By 1895, it was determined that this schoolhouse was unsatisfactory and that a new one should be built. For $3, the Williams family deeded a quarter-acre parcel of their land to the county for the erection of a new school. This school was completed by 1900 for a cost of $297.76 and remained in service until 1914, when it became a residence. Over the years, the original one-room schoolhouse became virtually unrecognizable: the door was relocated, porches were added, and the interior was divided into three rooms. A two-story addition was also added to the west, further obscuring the tiny school’s historic form. The house has long been known as the Hornbaker House after the family who owned the house from 1950 until 1973, when they sold it to the State for inclusion into Fort Frederick State Park, which had been formed in 1922. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources rented the property as a residence for a number of years, but it is now vacant.
Thanks to a generous grant from the African American Heritage Preservation Program[AR1] , donations from the Friends of Maryland State Parks and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Department of Natural Resources will begin to peel back the layers and restore the schoolhouse to its circa 1900 to 1914 appearance. In collaboration with staff from the Maryland Historical Trust, selective demolition has been carried out to begin to identify the original locations of windows and doors, identify later additions to the structure, and document these changes prior to the beginning of restoration work. In the coming months, later additions will be removed and the exterior of the schoolhouse will be returned to its former appearance for the first time in over 100 years. Once complete, the school will serve as a gateway to Fort Frederick State Park and an educational center to interpret the rich history of the Williams Family and the experience of African American families living in Washington County after the Civil War and emancipation.
Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties form: https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/PDF/Washington/WA-V-206.pdf
Preservation Maryland Six-to-Fix: Historic Resources in Maryland’s State Parks: https://www.preservationmaryland.org/programs/six-to-fix/projects/current-projects/historic-resources-in-marylands-state-parks/