Hisrory in Situ
Saving the Wallace Grove School
The Wallace Grove School, like so many abandoned buildings, was once home to junk.
What, less than a century ago, served as one of the county's 100 community schools for black residents was holding trash.
More than that, the structure itself was in disrepair. There were holes in the building. The door and windows were boarded up. Ivy was creeping from the ground, up the front wall, between beaded board and clapboard, and out of the top.
Wallace Grove Baptist Church Pastor Tommy Chatman had a dilemma on his hands: the church's kitchen was too small. While congregants could go outside to eat, Chatman was worried what they'd do if it started to rain.
He looked outside the church – at the old schoolhouse on the church's campus.
"The deacons agreed to fix it so people could come in and eat," Chatman said.
Understanding the structure was more than simply a shed, the church partnered with the Madison-Morgan Conservancy. Restoration of the Wallace Grove School began in March 2011.
In 1901, W. P. Wallace donated about an acre of land for the construction of a school and church, according to information provided by Christine McCauley, executive director of the Madison-Morgan Conservancy. Class was in session at Wallace Grove school by the 1902-1903 school year.
"In the 1880s through about 1910, the Morgan County Board of Education was ordering that schools be built in all these communities around Morgan County," McCauley said. "The black schools hugely outnumbered...the white schools."
The church burned down in 1950 and was rebuilt in the same place. Shortly before that, in 1948, white schools across the county were consolidated into Madison. The 100-some-odd black schools remained scattered in communities throughout the county until 10 years later. In 1958, the black schools were combined into three – Bostwick, Springfield and Buckhead. And 10 years after that, in 1968, the black schools were again consolidated, this time into Madison – Burney and Pearl schools.
In the early part of the 20th century – the 1910s and 1920s – the philanthropic goal of Sears, Roebuck & Company CEO Julius Rosenwald was to construct schoolhouses for rural African-American communities. Georgia was the recipient of 244 of those schools, according to McCauley, and not a single one of those was in Morgan County.
"I think that that's significant because if we needed help educating our children, he would have been who we would've gone to and said, 'Would you help us build schools?'" McCauley said. "But we obviously didn't need the help. We were obviously doing it on our own."
McCauley, in an effort to unearth other turn-of-the-century schoolhouses for black students in the county, met with a number of locals well-versed in the existence of these schoolhouses, people like Geraldine Cooper. In fact, she and Cooper sat in her office for hours, she said, pouring over the list of 100-plus schools to determine whether the school was held in a church or in its own schoolhouse and, if so, whether the schoolhouse was still standing.
"And none of them (the schoolhouses) still existed," McCauley said. "So...we are pretty darn sure that this (the Wallace Grove School) is the last one (standing in its original spot)."
That's why it's important.
"The opportunity to show people what school was like at the turn of the century," McCauley said of the Wallace Grove School's significance in the county. "You know, you had to walk to school. You didn't have a lunchroom. You brought what you were going to eat for lunch and it laid around all day... It was really a different way of life. Kids now can come and see and get an inkling of what it might be like."
An "on-and-off process," the restoration of the Wallace Grove School took about six months, Chatman said. The pastor himself had the skills and crew to handle this project – construction is what he does during the week. This fact came in especially handy when addressing the front wall, infested with ivy.
Using a true preservation technique, Chatman and his crew took off the wood piece by piece and numbered it; when they finished restoring it, they were able to put it back correctly.
While Chatman was prepping the site, McCauley went about gathering donations. The first item she went after was true-sized wood.
"Wood in 1901 was a different dimension than it is today," McCauley said. "A two-by-four today is not actually a two-by-four."
"It's actually three-and-a-half (inches) by one-and-a-half (inches)," Chatman said.
McCauley knew that Champion Lumber in Shady Dale would cut wood to "true size," so she approached them for a donation. She told them what they needed – big sills, rafters, clapboards. The owner told her, "I'll see what I can do. Ask Tommy to come down here."
Chatman did, and Champion donated the whole load of wood.
"That kind of started us off," McCauley said.
Local churches and organizations followed with cash donations and businesses took part by giving materials and loaning equipment.
"It was very nice," McCauley said. "It really was an amazing collective effort."
With no electricity or running water, the restored Wallace Grove School was debuted at an event held by the church on Saturday, Sept. 17 and, for some of the 60 or so visitors who happened to be Wallace Grove School alumni, the schoolhouse was exactly as they remembered it. Among those in attendance were Emma Johnson, the last teacher that taught at Wallace Grove School, and Wallace's granddaughter, Anne Wallace-Walker.
"I'd say they were in awe, just amazed," Chatman said. "Everybody was amazed."
The Sunflower Farm's Wes Holt attended the event and sat next to a representative of the state Historic Preservation Division. According to Holt, the representative said she was shocked at how quickly the restoration came together, that typically something like this takes 10 years.
"I went to church here the Sunday after our celebration," McCauley said. "I think the biggest thing, and I didn't really know it through the process, (was that) Tommy's faith that this was going to happen is what made it happen. His faith is very, very strong."
While the restoration of the schoolhouse is complete, the congregation of Wallace Grove Baptist Church and the Madison-Morgan Conservancy are still looking for pictures of or documents from the Wallace Grove School. There has been remarkably little documentation of the school they've found. If you can contribute to their collection of Wallace Grove archives, please contact Christine McCauley at (706) 342-9252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many local businesses and organizations came
together to make the restoration of the Wallace Grove School possible. The list of contributors,
according to Madison-
Executive Director Christine McCauley, includes...
Conservancy: Gave cash, organized workdays and arranged all donations
Landmarks: Gave cash
Thankful Baptist Church: Gave cash
Social Circle Hardware: Donated beaded board
Landscaping: Donated 50 bales of pinestraw and loaned a sod roller
Ruark Farms: Donated two pallets of sod and sold three more
Donated six windows
Sunflower Farm: Donated furnishings and labor,
organized work days and loaned a bulldozer
Cultural Center: Donated two period desks
Plainview Baptist Church: Gave cash
Indian Springs Baptist Church: Gave cash
Morgan County Roads and Bridges: Cut the roads prior to the
"Wallace Grove School is such an important historic resource for Morgan County," McCauley writes in email correspondence, "and we were honored to have been involved in saving the building."
Printed in the October 6, 2011 edition.