The Stafford Training School in Stafford, Virginia
Visitors who drive down Route 1 in Stafford, Virginia—known there as Jefferson Davis Highway—will notice a white historical marker along the road standing not too far away from a one-story brick building. The sign is part of Virginia’s Historical Highway Marker Program: an initiative that seeks to educate drivers on historical points of interest that intersect with their travels. The brick building, in this case, is the subject of that historical marker. Now known as Rowser Building, this site once hosted the Stafford Training School. This school was an African-American funded institution that, in pre-segregation days, was the only one in the county that offered Black students an education past the seventh grade. In 2013, local citizens worked together to grant the site its proper historical recognition, while continuing its ongoing narrative of community and opportunity.
Educational opportunities for African Americans were extremely limited in the first half of the century, due to restricted governmental funding and segregation laws. Black families who wanted their children to receive an education needed to build from the ground up—which is exactly what the African American community of Stafford did in 1939. In the midst of the Great Depression, they raised enough money to buy eight acres of land that fronted Route 1. The Public Works Administration, a construction agency that was part of the New Deal, built the school so that local students could continue their education.
While parents had hoped that the school would provide a high school level of education, it was only able to accommodate students to the 10th grade. After that, students commuted to educational institutions in other nearby towns in order to graduate. But building additions made over time changed that paradigm, allowing more students to attend and achieve higher levels of education. Each addition came with its own story. A 1943 classroom addition was known as the “War Room,” because it was built during WWII. In 1954, two more classrooms and a cafeteria/auditorium (complete with a stage) allowed the school to expand its student body as well as its extracurriculars. In 1960, county bus drivers labored for free between their driving shifts to build out more space. This addition is fittingly known as “The Bus Drivers’ Addition.”
The school continued expanding and renovating throughout the years as a junior high school, a high school, and eventually—after the desegregation of African American and white schools—as a vocational center for students of all races. Before Stafford Training School was able to undergo that transformation, however, its students had to fight for equality. In September of 1961, two Stafford students named Doretha and Cynthia Montague successfully enrolled in classes at the all-white Stafford Elementary School, a full seven years after the Supreme Court had ruled school segregation as unconstitutional. They were not the first students to try to exercise their rights. The year before, five Black students had applied to Stafford County High School and failed. After the Montagues enrolled, all the school systems in the Fredericksburg region desegregated. The institution was known as the H.H. Poole School at the time of desegregation. In 1976, its name changed again to the Rowser Building, in honor of a longtime and beloved educator named Ella Rowser. The county received the building from the school system in 2003, renovated it in 2005, and now use it as a multi-purpose building that hosts a senior center, a parks and recreation facility that offers camps and classes, and offices for the county health district (including a dental clinic). In 2013, the Rowser Building had one more tale to tell of equality and teamwork between races. Black alumnus Frank White worked with friend and historian Norman Schools to register the building as a Historical Landmark. The two spent three months doing research for the application. Their efforts were met with success, and the town celebrated with a ceremony in June of 2013. The Historical Marker Program went on to commemorate it as well in 2014.
Elisia Guerena Dec 10, 2020 Architecture
Elisia Guerena Dec 10, 2020
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