The Friends of Harrington School, Inc. announced that they have received a $25,000 challenge grant from the Watson-Brown Foundation to complete the interior restoration of the historic African American schoolhouse on St. Simons Island. All tax- deductible donations by December 31 will be matched by this grant.
“This generous grant is a real tribute to all the people who have worked so hard over six years to restore this historic schoolhouse,” stated Patty Deveau, President of The Friends of Harrington School, Inc. “When we approached the Watson-Brown Foundation six years ago they were skeptical about our ability to get the job done, “Deveau recalled. “Thanks to generous grassroots support we are now close to completing the final tasks and so Watson-Brown Foundation wanted to help us reach our final goal to be able to open the schoolhouse as ‘The Harrington Cultural Center’ for tours and programs in early 2017.”
The work had to be done in phases as funds were raised. Ninety one percent (91.1 percent) of all donations went straight into repairs to the structure. First up was a new roof. Then historic preservation contractors removed the old asbestos siding; repaired the foundations and floors; restored the windows and doors, and replaced new exterior siding. Today the schoolhouse looks great on the outside, “but it’s not ready for full use yet. “ Deveau said.
Interior repairs still need to be done. Recently an anonymous donor paid for repairs to the interior ceiling. New donations will help install electricity and insulation and restore the original bead-board walls. Finally the interior will be painted, the floors sanded and finished, and the blackboards installed. HVAC will come later as more funds are raised. An ADA ramp will connect to the trails and parking at the new Harrington Community Park.
“If we can match the Watson-Brown Foundation grant by December 31 we can complete these key interior tasks and begin programs on a regular basis in February,” Deveau promised.
A key site on the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, The Harrington Graded School was a one-room segregated schoolhouse built in the 1920s on a Rosenwald plan by African American tradesmen for the education of their children and grandchildren. Many were descendants of the “Coupers people” at Cannons Point who built homes in Harrington the largest of the island’s three African American communities. Today their descendants are members of the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, the organization that maintains and operates the schoolhouse under a 99- year lease from the St. Simons Land Trust. The Coalition provides tours of African American historic sites on the island and puts on the annual Georgia Sea Island Festival in early June. Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the Coalition and a recipient of the Governors Award in the Humanities has been saving and sharing historical photos, documents and stories about the African American families in the area since 2000: “Many coastal historic sites focus on slavery. When the schoolhouse is opened we will have a place where we can tell ‘the rest of the story’ — the contributions of area families over the 150 years from Emancipation through the Civil Rights Era. “
The Harrington School is located on St. Simons Island at 291 South Harrington Rd. between Bennie’s Red Barn and Village Creek Landing. Roberts will be at the schoolhouse on Wednesdays (10-noon) in November and December.
Tax-deductible donations towards matching the challenge grant may be made by check payable to “Friends of Harrington School, Inc.” and mailed to P.O. Box 20496, St. Simons Island, GA 31522, or by credit card via PayPal at the website www.ssiheritagecoalition.org. The Friends of Harrington School, Inc. and the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition are both 501 c-3 non-profit organizations.
For more information go to www.ssiheritagecoalition.org or call 912-634-0330.