Hidden in Plain Sight: The Fort Frederick Colored School

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.

The Fort Frederick Colored Schoolhouse, or the Williams Schoolhouse as it is also known, survives despite later alterations, including the porch and two-story addition at right.

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.

DNR staff, including Charlie Mazurek, Historic Preservation Planner (second from left), and Peter Morrill, Curator Program Manager (right), have been instrumental in raising awareness of the importance of this structure and in seeking funding for its preservation.

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.


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Curator Program Manager Peter Morrill looks for physical evidence
of the schoolhouse’s historic form and finishes.

Further reading:

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/

 [AR1]Link to: https://mht.maryland.gov/grants_africanamerican.shtml


2 thoughts on “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Fort Frederick Colored School

  1. I love this story. I applaud the men who’s bringing the past into the future. There are many buildings that African Americans live in all over MD that could or should be restored. Keep up the good work. It’s good knowing someone cares.

    • My grandparents lived in this house for over 30 years. They had to move because they said they were going to tear it down or use it for storage, finally glad to see it being restored

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