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One-teacher Millsboro schoolhouse listed in the National Register of Historic Places

By Madeline Dunn, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ National Register coordinator-historian

The Godwin School, a historic one-teacher schoolhouse located at 23235 Godwin School Road west of Millsboro, Del., was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 16, 2018. The Millsboro Historical Society, organized in 1985 for the purpose of preserving this historic building, worked under the direction of the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ State Historic Preservation Office to prepare the National Register nomination. Archival research, enhanced by oral-history interviews conducted previously by the society, provided an opportunity to thoroughly document the history of this 1897 building.

Exterior of the Godwin School
Exterior of the Godwin School

As a result of a steadily increasing student population within the Georgetown–Millsboro area 122 years ago, the State Board of Education authorized county commissioners to evaluate the situation and prepare a report for the Sussex County Levy Court. During the court’s May 13, 1896 proceedings, Commissioner William P. Short made a motion referring the issue to the county’s Committee of Education which included Peter Shockley, Elihu A. Phillips and Theophilus S. Rogers. After visiting the county’s nine existing school districts, each consisting of a single building, they proposed new boundaries as well as the creation of new districts. The Godwin School, historically known as School District #190, was thereby created and a building constructed on a parcel of land owned by Jacob R. Godwin by 1897.

During the 1922–1923 school year, Mrs. Willa Lingo taught as many as 30 students per day within the confines of this building. Her students ranged from the first- to eighth-grade levels and were taught a variety of subjects including arithmetic, history and science. Since bus transportation did not exist, teachers and students alike walked up to three miles to school and never stayed at home on snowy days. A teacher’s routine duties included building a fire in the wood stove and sweeping out the classroom before students arrived.

Restored interior of the Godwin School
Restored interior of the Godwin School

During the 1935-1936 school year Millsboro School District #23 became one of the county’s thirteen schools which offered education to students grades seven through 12. By the end of the 1935–1936 school year, enrollment in rural one-teacher schools had significantly dropped and the Godwin School was among the state’s 11 districts which closed. Therefore, students previously attending the Godwin School were officially transferred to Millsboro School District #23. In his 1936 annual report to the Department of Instruction, Principal James M. Bennett praised Millsboro School District #23 noting that it had emphasized scholastic work and that its students had experienced better-than-average success. Like other closed schoolhouses, the Godwin School was eventually repurposed with descendants of Jacob R. Godwin utilizing it as an agricultural-support building for many decades.

As a result of its enthusiasm and dedication to the preservation of the Godwin School, the Millsboro Historical Society has successfully increased public awareness about the importance of identifying and preserving a once commonplace building-type that has vanished from the rural landscape, encouraged elected officials to contribute financially to historic preservation, and ignited interest in learning about local history through the development and implementation of interpretive programming activities for visitors of all ages. The school is open by appointment only. Call 302-934-6820 to make a reservation.

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