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Holt's Chapel on The National Register
Rosenwald School makes the list
August 25, 2023

olt’s Chapel School, known today as Holt’s Chapel Community Center, was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located on Janiero Rd. The school was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under the criteria of Education and Black Ethnic Heritage. Its significance derives from it being established to educate Black children in a racially segregated school district from 1922-1963.   

Holt’s Chapel School, now called Holt’s Chapel Community Center.
Another criteria is for architectural significance as an intact three-teacher schoolhouse built with support from the Rosenwald Fund. The frame building, standing on an open-pier brick foundation, displays the character-defining features of a 1920s rural school including the banks of oversized windows on its west-facing elevation. Holt’s Chapel School retains excellent architectural integrity including intact design, workmanship, and materials.

This school was one of four Rosenwald Schools in Pamlico County to receive partial funding and assistance from the Rosenwald Fund, an educational project established by Booker T. Washington, President of the Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, President of Sears Roebuck.  Over 5,000 Rosenwald Schools were built in the South from 1917-1932, including over 800 in North Carolina, more than in any other state.  This effort has been called “the most important initiative to advance Black education in the early 20th century,” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  

The large west facing windows – part of the Rosenwald design.

One other Rosenwald School that still stands in Pamlico County is the two-teacher school located in Mesic. Its structural integrity is threatened, like most of the Rosenwald Schools, because of demolition and neglect due to lack of funds.  Only about 10% of all Rosenwald Schools are estimated to survive today.  By preserving historic sites that tell the story of African Americans in this country we draw attention to the contributions of both ordinary and extraordinary people. Rosenwald Schools honor not just Rosenwald and Washington, but also those elders – the fathers and grandfathers who cut timber for, and helped to build the buildings, and the mothers and grandmothers who sold baked goods, hot meals and hand-sewn clothes to help raise their share of the matching funds.  A recent article in a National Parks journal notes that, “Thanks to clean and well-lit spaces for learning, devoted teachers, involved parents and strong supportive communities, the Rosenwald school students thrived.”

In 1963 Holt’s Chapel School was one of the last rural Black schools in our area to close when students transferred to Pamlico County Training School in Stonewall. By court order in 1967 Pamlico County Schools integrated.  In the 1970s, Holt’s Chapel School became a Head Start center to educate young children and later an adult learning facility. Bathrooms were installed in the 1970s in the location of the early cloakrooms and the library is now a kitchen.  

In 2009, Holt’s Chapel AME Zion Church became the sole owner of the school, known as Holt’s Chapel Community Center. Former students and others invested in the history of the building have worked to preserve and restore it. Beginning in 2017, the Board of Directors under the leadership of the late Teresa Jones Badger, obtained grants to install a new roof, lights, and central heat and air, and to update the wiring and reinforce the foundation. In 2021, new, tall handcrafted windows replicating the original sash were installed. The Board of Directors wishes to continue their work in restoring the building and bringing recognition to its history.

The windows from inside. (file photo)

The story of Holt’s Chapel School is an inspiration to all of us, especially those on the frontlines of change in our communities.  It stands as an example of the significant, progressive-era collaboration of a Black-Jewish partnership, along with the all-white State and County school officials, united to advance Black education during the Jim Crow era.  When asked what future generations will hopefully take from this story, we often think that problems in America are intractable, especially those related to race, but this narrative reminds us that individual actions, and working with others, matters and can change the world for the better.  

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Under the National Park Service this national program offers tax incentives, grants and support for public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

Holt’s Chapel Community Center, Inc. offers the opportunity to enhance the vitality of our community, inclusive of all people, by hosting cultural and educational programs. They are currently seeking a strong board composition of interested non-profit leaders and volunteers. 

The school does not qualify for an historic marker because the NC HWY Historic Marker Program already has one in Edenton. That Rosenwald School is the umbrella for all NC Rosenwald Schools. Hopefully funds can be raised to purchase one privately. The National Register of Historic Places office does not give plaques or signs.

If you wish to contact Holt’s Chapel Community Center email Sarah Goodnight, goodnightsarah4@gmail.com or write to Holt’s Chapel Community Center, Inc. P.O. Box 616, Oriental, NC 28571.  

Story & photos submitted by Sarah Goodnight.

Posted Friday August 25, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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