Program remembers schoolhouse

Published 12:44 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Shirley Lee

Members of New Grove Baptist Church in Kenbridge reflected on an area schoolhouse—and Lunenburg County’s history—during a Black History Month program Feb. 18.

The speaker, Shirley Robinson Lee, presented a 1945 photograph of the school for the church to keep.

The program featured selections from area choirs and histories of African-American people, such as Thomas Andrew Dorsey, called the father of black gospel music.

Lee discussed records and photos she received of the New Grove Schoolhouse, which was a schoolhouse located near New Grove Baptist Church for African-American students.

Lee recently published “Trails and Trailblazers: Public Education and School Desegregation in Lunenburg County,” which looks at the history of public education in Lunenburg County.

Lee said New Grove School was believed to have been organized in 1882 through the efforts of Joe Ghee and was named after New Grove Baptist Church.

“I have attempted to find as much information about the New Grove School that is available to me,” Lee said about the schoolhouse.

“What I want you to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy a historical sketch of the New Grove School,” Lee said.

Approximately 74 students attended the school between the years of 1943-1944, according to a survey of the area schools, Lee said.

“This frame building was one story with two rooms having wood joisted roof covered with metal, and a brick chimney built from the ground,” Lee said in a news release after the event. “The interior finish was of wood joist floor with wooden sheathed sidewalls and ceiling. The school was entirely supported by stone piers.”

“The school had no modern conveniences,” Lee said during the event, noting the school did not have electricity, running water, or cafeteria, library, gym or indoor restroom.

She said the school was heated by a potbelly stove in the wintertime and opened the windows and doors during the summer.

She said there was a community league that helped financially support the school through funds gathered from farming.

Lee noted many of the students also farmed, and may have missed school during harvesting and planting seasons.

New Grove School closed in the spring of 1962, Lee said.

Lee said following the school’s closing, some of the students were transferred to the newly renovated Kenbridge Graded School in Kenbridge and others attended Lunenburg Elementary School in Victoria.

Records Lee obtained cited that two teachers taught a total of 92 students in 1923-1924. One teacher taught 30 fourth through seventh graders and the other taught 62 first through third graders respectively. She said one teacher made approximately $275 a year.

“I want you to get your intellectual juices flowing,” Lee said about the program. “I want you to start thinking about and remembering many of the people who have gone on, and some people who are sitting here in this church today, who have attended this school. It’s going to bring back some memories for you.”

Lee read names from a list of students who attended the schoolhouse.

Some of the congregation members who attended the school recognized the names read on the document.

Lee said the New Grove School is still standing at its original site on Oral Oaks Road, approximately ten miles south of Kenbridge. She said the former schoolhouse has been remodeled and is a private residence.