Clarksville, TN – The groundbreaking for the South Guthrie Community Center on Thursday was something to behold. Excited residents had gathered in the parking lot of the current center to watch as county officials broke the ground for an expansion of their community center late last week. During a short ceremony before the ground breaking officials discussed their plans for the renovation, restoration, and expansion of the historic site.
Montgomery County Engineer Clint Camp expressed the County’s desire to both restore the building to an authentic state while at the same time adding additional space and new capabilities.
Once completed the renovation project will try to bring the building back to its original glory it was built as a two room Rosenwald schoolhouse 90 years ago in 1922 as the Warfield School. The timing of this renovation could not be better. It was 100 years ago this year that the first Rosenwald schools were built.
The Rosenwald Initiative was a cooperative venture between Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the local African-American communities. It all started back in 1912 when Julius Rosenwald gave Booker T. Washington permission to use some of the money for the construction of six small schools in rural Alabama that Rosenwald had donated to the Tuskegee Institute. The Schools were built and opened in 1913 and 1914. Pleased with the results, Rosenwald then agreed to fund a larger program for schoolhouse construction based out of Tuskegee. In 1917 he established the Julius Rosenwald fund, a Chicago-based philanthropic foundation, and in 1920 the Rosenwald fund established an independent office for the school building program in Nashville, Tennessee.
This partnership for education would change the nation by expanding educational opportunities for African-Americans in the early 20th Century south. By 1928, one in every five rule school for black students in the South was a Rosenwald school, and these schools housed one third of the region’s rural black schoolchildren and teachers. At the program’s completion in 1932, it produced 4,977 new schools, 217 teacher’s home, and 163 shop buildings, constructed at a total cost of $28,408,520 to serve 663,615 students in 883 counties of 15 states
The Rosenwald school building program has been called, “one of the most influential philanthropic forces that had came to the aid of Negroes at the time.”
What they are going to try to do is to bring back the original aesthetics using the efficiencies of modern materials.
The exterior of the building will get a face lift with new Hardie Board Siding. The interior will have the wall paneling removed and replaced with the original style bead board. The drop ceiling that was put in to the building back in the mid-70s will be taken out and they will try to restore that high ceiling height with bead board above it to bring back the original feel, airiness, and interior lighting. They are also trying to acquire replacement windows which are a little taller; the style of windows which would be more representative of the history and the era that the building was originally constructed in.
The addition that was placed on to the back of the building in the mid to late 70s, will be removed in order to restore the building to its original form, and to bring back a bank of windows along the rear wall of the building that were removed in the previous renovation.
A new addition then a new 1800 square-foot addition will be added onto the southern side of the building making it L-shape. A large patio will be located in the rear of the building where the community will be able to hold outdoor events.
The current plan is to try to have the renovations complete and the Community Center reopened by Thanksgiving.
Jerry Allbert, the director of the Montgomery County Department of Parks and Recreation said, “Once the renovations are complete we hope to be able to serve more people in the community and get people to come out to this area. The renovated community center will be great for holding class and family reunions and get-togethers for the community. We are hoping to put it back as close to as its original status possible. We are going to try to, if possible, get the artifacts back and on one side set up a replica of a one-room classroom from back in the day.”
The facility is currently used by the local community association for their meetings, church dinners, class and family reunions, and other community events. They’ve been severely limited by the available space, and any additional room will be a major asset to them.
“Absolutely fantastic,” was the response given by Delinia Storr, when asked how it felt to know that the new community center was finally going to happen. “As I told Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers, my oldest daughter went to school here for a couple of years, and she was so excited when she heard about the renovations. She said that when we have the grand opening. She will return to Clarksville from Atlanta to take part in the festivities.”
“It’s amazing,” said Mayor Bowers when asked what she thought of the growth of the South Guthrie area. “I don’t know if Delinia knows but there’s going to be a huge soccer Park built close to this property, and it will definitely impact the usage of the community center.” The county has also purchased 150 acres of land in the area for a new school which will likely be built in the next few years as the explosive growth the North Montgomery County area continues.
“We’re just excited! We been waiting, and now it’s finally happening! To God be the glory!” said Mrs. Storr. The north Montgomery County community is really looking forward to the day that the new facility will have its ribbon-cutting and official opening; we are looking forward to that day as well!
These schools had a positive impact on the lives of the African-American community when they were built 90 years ago, and for the small South Guthrie community, this building now turned into a vital community resource continues to have a positive impact today.