Scrabble School (former Woodville Rosenwald School)

Historical Significance

Built in 1921, Scrabble School's two-room schoolhouse is one of more than 5,000 African-American schools built across the South with the help of Sears Roebuck co-founder Julius Rosenwald, intended to replace sub-standard schools for African-American children. The Rosenwald Fund hired architects to design schoolhouses that set a new standard for educational institutions in America, especially in regard to lighting and ventilation. In the Scrabble School, large windows let in an abundance of natural light and fresh air, while oak floorboards, slate blackboards, a kitchen, and storage rooms were innovative approaches meant to foster a healthy learning environment.

African-American children living in Woodville, Sperryville, Slate Mills, Peola Mills, and surrounding areas of the county attended Scrabble between 1921 and 1968, when the public schools were integrated. Scrabble's African American community contributed over thirty percent of the costs for the school ($1100), while the white residents contributed four percent ($125); the remainder of the $3225 cost was paid for by school taxes ($1200) and the Rosenwald Fund ($800).

Historic research revealed that Scrabble students followed a well-established routine during their school day. First came recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by devotionals and prayers. The school's divider was then closed, and two classes set to work; first through third grades on one side, fourth through seventh on the other. Each concentrated on a curriculum the State Board of Education had established, one that stressed the "3 R's": reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic, using flashcards, reading "spellers," and doing penmanship exercises.

Scrabble School students also received vocational training. For several decades a visiting teacher taught boys industrial arts, such as chair caning and carpentry. Girls learned to can, sew, and garden in a home economics class.

Students presented special programs throughout the year to celebrate Christmas, Easter, May Day, and the end of the school year. In February, they recognized the history and accomplishments of African Americans during "Negro History Week." May Day was especially popular. Local African-American grade schools in Rappahannock County took turns hosting festivities that included a maypole dance and foot races, and the schools competed to raise money. The winner would crown two of its students "king" and "queen." Scrabble Alumni speak with great fondness and appreciation of the teachers who inspired many of them to pursue careers as doctors, ministers, teachers, and military officers.

Rappahannock County schools were integrated in 1968. During that first year, Scrabble was used as an integrated school for first graders. At the end of the school year, the county decided the building was inadequate and closed the school. The building became derelict, its architectural and historical significance largely forgotten.

So few Rosenwald Schools remain that in 2002 the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed them among its "most endangered places." Thanks to a grassroots effort and with the support of the county, Scrabble School was spared demolition. In 2009, it reopened as the Rappahannock Senior Center at Scrabble School and the Rappahannock African-American Heritage Center. It is one of the few Rosenwald Schools which have been restored. The site is now open to the public with an interactive exhibit featuring the school's history as told by its alumni. Much of this material is also available on the website. 

Physical Description

Abandoned and nearly forgotten once it was closed, Scrabble School re-opened in 2009 after an extensive restoration. The building is now the home of the Rappahannock Senior Center at Scrabble School.  It also houses the Rappahannock African-American Heritage Center, featuring an exhibit that tells the story of the school, the community it once served, and its place in local, state, and national history.

Geographical and Contact Information

111 Scrabble Road
Castleton, Virginia
22716
Phone: 540-987-8103

Images

Architectural blueprint for two-room Rosenwald School  (1924).

Architectural blueprint for two-room Rosenwald School (1924).

From Community School Plans, by Fletcher B. Dresslar and S. L. Smith. | Source: Courtesy of Tom Hanchett View File Details Page

Photograph of Scrabble School following its restoration. (May 2009).

Photograph of Scrabble School following its restoration. (May 2009).

Source: Courtesy of Susanna Spencer. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Scrabble School (former Woodville Rosenwald School),” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed March 30, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/380.

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