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By Joe Fulgham, communications officer, Delaware House of Representatives Minority Caucus
As children in Delaware get ready to return to school, a dedicated group of volunteers and state officials have seen their efforts to preserve the classroom experience of a century ago achieve a major milestone.
Located just off State Route 20, west of Millsboro, the one-teacher Godwin School was recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1897, when such structures were commonplace, the Godwin School is among a small group of present-day survivors.
“By 1925, there were 224 one-teacher schools in Delaware, 138 of which were in Sussex County,” said Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ National Register Coordinator Madeline Dunn. “There are a few buildings here in Sussex, four or five, that we’ve been able to track, that were removed from their original locations and converted to agricultural support buildings.”
The Godwin School had initially suffered a similar fate. After closing its doors in 1936 following nearly four decades of service, it was converted to a corn crib—a job it performed for many years. In 1985, the Millsboro Historical Society formed with the goal of restoring the building to its former appearance and purpose, preserving it as a tribute to the state’s past.
Margaret Mitchell, president of the Millsboro Historical Society, was the driving force behind the project that she said only came to fruition through the efforts of numerous people. “There was a group of people that worked really hard. We did a lot of fundraising … and county council helped us out tremendously.”
The dedication brought to the project was the result of a personal connection for many of those involved. “We knew the history of this place,” Ms. Mitchell said. “My mother went to school here.”
The school’s listing in the National Register of Historic Places is more than just a point of pride. Ms. Dunn said it also carries some significant benefits. First, the society will now be able to apply for historic preservation tax credits, which will help it meet the continuing costs of maintaining the site. “The listing also guarantees that 20 or 30 or 40 years from now, if they are considering expanding the road or doing any federally funded project [that might impact this site], they will have to take into consideration that … this is a building worthy of historic preservation,” she said.
State Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, who represents the area, recently visited the school and said it provides a compelling experience of “how people lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s” that is lacking from many museums.
For both teachers and students, the average school day in 1918 was starkly different from that of their modern-day counterparts. Learning was done without the benefit of electricity, by daylight or lantern, from wooden benches and desks.
“Teachers and students alike walked up to three miles to school and never stayed at home on snowy days,” Ms. Dunn said. “A teacher’s routine duties included building a fire in the wood stove and sweeping out the classroom before students arrived.”
Rep. Collins applauded the Millsboro Historical Society and the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. “We have a lot of history in this area,” he said. “Thank goodness we have people that are willing and dedicated to making the sacrifices they do to preserve this heritage.”
For additional coverage, go to the following:
Godwin School Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
YouTube video, Aug. 23, 2018
After decades of work, Millsboro schoolhouse a national historic site
Coastal Point, Ocean View, Del.—Aug. 23, 2018
National Register: Godwin School lands county council grant support
Sussex Post, Georgetown, Del.—Aug. 15, 2018
One-teacher Millsboro schoolhouse listed in the National Register of Historic Places
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ blog, July 31, 2018