Thursday, December 29, 2016

Siloam Rosenwald School and Biddleville Cemetery in Charlotte, NC

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission is seeking help to preserve a historic school for black children, including the possibility of having it moved from a lot near UNC-Charlotte where it was built in the 1920s.

Dan Morrill, of the landmarks commission, says the Siloam Rosenwald School on John Adams Road is “highly endangered” due to deterioration. This happened despite being designated a historic landmark in 2006, he said.

The property is owned by the Tribute Companies, which has reportedly asked the landmarks commission to help find someone to take the building for preservation. It was built on the site as part of a 20th-century project to educate African-American children throughout the South. The current structure replaced an old log cabin, historians say.

“Unless something is done soon, the Siloam Rosenwald School will be beyond repair,” Morrill said in a statement.

“Rough estimates suggest that to restore the school will cost $150,000. Moving it elsewhere would require an additional $50,000. The fate of the building rests first with Tribute Companies. They own it.”

In March 2008, the owner received approval for plans to restore the school but did not move forward with the project. “Indeed, the Siloam School has not received any improvements and is deteriorating rapidly,” Morrill said.

He’d like to see the building used for classes that would make the community more aware of its African-American heritage. “There are many options. As in most cases, however, the issue comes down to money and setting priorities. Perhaps the only solution is to let the Siloam Rosenwald School crumble and go away,” Morrill said in a statement.

Rosenwald Schools were named for Julius Rosenwald, the head of Sears Roebuck & Co. Rosenwald joined with Booker T. Washington of Tuskeegee Institute to build new school buildings for African-Americans throughout the South.

The Siloam Rosenwald School harkens back to a day when Mecklenburg County was overwhelmingly rural. It sits on its original site, which is now located at the entrance to an apartment complex owned by Tribute Companies. The Historic Landmarks Commission did examine the building in 2013 and found that the structure was capable of being moved, Morrill said.

Charlotte City Council voted last week to offer historic landmark protections for another important African-American site, the old Biddleville Cemetery, founded in 1873.

Biddleville Cemetery is considered vital on several counts: It wasn’t a slave cemetery, but was instead a rare neighborhood cemetery for free blacks. It’s also the resting place of some of the city’s most notable black citizens, including veterans of the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II.

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