Scrabble School: The way it was

Everything’s like it used to be at Scrabble School, even the round Roman numeral clock hanging from a wall brace and the white-globed lights suspended from the ceiling. The pot-bellied stoves stationed at each end of the building are gone, however. And the toilets are inside instead of outside.

Darcy Canton leads a Bible study at the senior center at Scrabble School and Heritage Center. Photo by Alisa Booze Troetschel.

A divider separated first through third and fourth through seventh grades in the one-room schoolhouse. Harriet Lewis, a 1945 Scrabble School graduate, remembers how students moved closer to the wall of large windows as they advanced in grade level.
The public will be able to see the school on May 1 when the Scrabble School Preservation Foundation holds an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. The festivities will include dedicating an audiovisual board describing the school’s history in honor of E. Franklin Warner, a former student who initiated the restoration effort who died in 2003.

African-American children attended Scrabble School from 1921 to 1968. White students joined them in the last year when the school was integrated.

Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., built schools throughout the South to education African-American children. Scrabble School is one of three Rosenwald schools constructed in Rappahannock County. The Flint Hill and Amissville schoolhouses are no longer standing.

“This historic building is an asset for the community,” says Bob Lander, president of the Foundation.

Eventually the property will be a tourist destination, community meeting space, and park.

Inside the school, visitors will learn from The Rappahannock African-American Heritage Center how African-American children were educated in the county in the 20th century before desegregation.

Rappahannock County’s tourism consultant, Laura Overstreet, plans to offer the foundation’s literature at the new Visitors Center, and include information about Scrabble School in training volunteers who staff the center.

The school will be open on Friday and Saturday afternoons until this fall. The foundation plans to organize four public fundraising events each year. Each gathering will focus on a different theme to show life at the school.

Harriet Lewis is back at Scrabble, but not to study. She’s one of 48 county residents participating in activities at the Rappahannock Senior Center at Scrabble School and Heritage Center. At the invitation of the foundation, the group began meeting there last May.

“We turned the keys over to the senior citizens,” says Dorothy Warner, the foundation’s treasurer.

In order for the foundation to obtain funding to restore the school, the school needed a purpose. Warner discovered it one Wednesday two years ago when she delivered donated bread to the seniors. This was her first visit to where they were meeting, and she found them in cramped quarters.

“It was just awful,” says Warner. One good deed led to another, which solved problems for Scrabble School and the seniors.

“We [the Foundation} had a monthly meeting that next Tuesday night. I told them, ‘I know what we can do with Scrabble School,’ ” Warner said.

“It was a brainstorm for Dorothy is what it really was,” says Darcy Canton, who is employed by the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board and Area Agency on Aging to manage the center. RRCSB-AAA, the foundation and Rappahannock County maintain the county-owned Scrabble School property.

“It’s a nice partnership for everybody,” says Canton. She credits the foundation for accomplishing the majority of the organization.

“They’ve done a beautiful job,” Canton adds. She is grateful for the larger space. “If it wasn’t for them, we’d still be stuck in that little tiny hole we were in.” Canton notes that the group grew in the past year and says, “We would never have fit in the other room.”

The senior center will take part in the grand opening. Canton recalls how their meeting space looked a year ago.

“The last time these people were here it was an empty shell,” Canton says. “Our goal is to let the Senior Center shine in a positive light.” All seniors in the county are welcome. “It is an activity place for all seniors in our county to come to.”

Scrabble School once grew the minds and hearts of children. Now it serves Rappahannock County residents at the opposite end of the timeline of life. And it is revitalized as a teaching facility — teaching about those children, how they learned and how they lived.

About Alisa Booze Troetschel 30 Articles
By some folks' standards, Alisa Booze Troetschel is a newcomer. She moved to northwest Virginia two years ago after completing graduate studies at the Missouri School of Journalism. She has photographed, written and edited for local, regional and national magazines and newspapers, while delighting in the beauty surrounding her new home.