Historic Rockbridge Schools

“Historic Lexington Foundation Focuses on Historic Rockbridge Schools at Its 2018 Annual Meeting”


Monday Historic Lexington Foundation held it annual meeting April 14 at the c. 1903 Palmer School, now the Palmer Community Center. The meeting provided a forum for a discussion of the importance of preserving and presenting the area’s historic schools and HLF’s role in this undertaking. Additionally, HLF presented its 2018 Founders’ Awards for two projects of significance, the rehabilitation of Beechenbrook Chapel in Lexington’s Jordan’s Point Historic District and the restoration of Forest Oaks in the Natural Bridge area of Rockbridge County.


HLF President Suzanne Barksdale Rice opened the meeting and introduced the keynote speaker, Horace Douty. Dr. Douty is minister at nearby Oxford Presbyterian Church and a historian of the community around Oxford and Palmer. He spoke on early education in that area, referred to in the past as “Snakefoot,” including the c. 1823 Hamilton School that served as both school and church. He also spoke of the key role played in the community by individuals such as Sydney Saville and the Reverend Thomas Mowbray.


HLF Executive Director Don Hasfurther continued the school theme. The Palmer School closed its doors in 1956. Unlike many other older schools throughout the country that were torn down after the last school bell rang, the local community made sure that would not be Palmer’s fate.  In 1997, the community, led by Nelson Hall, began the task of the buildings renovation, revitalization and reuse.


Hasfurther noted that another important structure, the Hamilton field school, is undergoing restoration.  He acknowledged the important role play by Janie, Will and Tommy Harris, all attending the annual meeting, and the fact that once the meeting was over Will and Tommy were on their way back to the school to prepare for the construction of a stone foundation. Hasfurther noted that HLF is giving $10,000 through its Lyle-Simpson Preservation Fund for the project.


Work is also underway in Buena Vista by the Buena Vista Colored School Historical Society toward the rehabilitation of that historic school. In 2017, HLF presented the historical society with a gift of $2,000. That money has now been used for the construction of porches to the school’s two entrances.


Hasfurther reminded the audience that in 2017 HLF organized a public event in c. 1927 Lylburn Downing School. It was an opportunity for many to visit for the first time the historic school that now serves as school board offices and a community-meeting place.  Attendees then went next door to the middle school of the same name for a showing of a film on Julius Rosenwald. With the urging of Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald provided funding for hundreds of schools throughout the South for black children.  Lylburn Downing was the recipient of some of those funds.





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