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Preserving the historic African-American Cornland School in Chesapeake

The earliest iterations of the school may have existed as far back as 1871. Now, you can take a peek inside this February.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — From the passing view of George Washington Highway southbound, most people may only see plywood over broken windows.

But Mildred Brown remembers this place as being so much more. 

At 92 years old, Brown knows the seemingly abandoned structure off Glencoe Street is a piece of her history as much as it's a part of our collective history. 

"It looks about the same just a little higher," she laughed.

"When initially built, it didn’t have any support of the city or state, originally," Jessica Cosmas said. "It's what we’d call 'crowdfunded.'”

The Cornland School in Chesapeake -- a small school dwelling believed to have been built by freed African Americans after the Civil War -- still stands more than 100 years after it was originally constructed.

From 1902 to 1953, one teacher taught seven grades worth of African American students, many of whom had to walk to the school just as Brown did as a young child. 

"Walked about eight miles!" she exclaimed.

On Thursday, Chesapeake's Department of Parks & Recreation hosted an open house for the inside and outside of the Cornland School. It will be one of two open houses during Black History Month.

It's one of the last times the public can see its interior, as the department awaits finalized renovation plans that can allow contractors to move forward with rehabilitating the building.

"We’re hoping to return some of the fixtures like the potbelly stove, the furniture, one of the upgrades will be interpretive language," Cosmas said, who is the Historical Services Manager for the department. 

She said once work begins, the targeted completion date for the project would be spring 2024, meaning there aren't too many days as Thursday left for Brown. The renovated Cornland School will be a part of a more extensive Historical Village at the Great Dismal Swamp. 

The second open house for the Cornland School will be on February 28 from 10 a.m. to noon. 

You can read more about the location's history at the Cornland School Foundation's website.

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