By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on February 3, 2021
Beginning on Feb. 3, Currituck County’s Historic Jarvisburg Colored School Museum will open to the public three days a week after being closed for the season since mid-December. The oldest standing colored school in North Carolina, the restored two-story school and museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and shares the rich history and heritage of the area’s African-American community between the late 1800s and mid-1900s.
“It’s something that we can share with everyone from any state and any background,” HJCS Board of Directors President Vivian Simpson told the Voice this week. “The creation of the school started at a time when it was not popular to educate black people, and the fact that you could be educated in Currituck County during that time is something I’m proud of.”
The HJCS opened its doors in Powell’s Point in 1868 after an African American farmer and landowner named William Hunt deeded land for the school, which would be one of six other colored schools in Currituck County, but the only one not constructed as part of the Rosenwald School project of the early 1900s. (Money from philanthropist Julius Rosenwald helped fund the construction of 800 schools in North Carolina for African American children.) The HJCS was moved to its current location at 7302 Caratoke Highway in Jarvisburg in 1911 and remained open until the 1950s.
The displays inside the museum share the stories of students who attended HJCS, explains Peggy Birkemeier, retired associate with the N.C. Community Foundation, in the 2020 documentary on the school called Restored With Purpose, School Days Revisited. Currituck County Video Production Specialist Alex Perry put the documentary together.
“It’s important to share these stories and preserve the school so that we can share the history of African Americans from long ago,” Birkemeier added.
After closing in the 1950s, HJCS sat empty and increasingly in a dilapidated state. In 1998, however, Alice Lindsey and a group of fellow Currituck County residents came together to begin raising money to repair the building. The HJCS Association was formed and not long after, Currituck County partnered in efforts to restore the building. In 2010, a year after the HJCS was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, Currituck County again partnered with the non-profit association to maintain and oversee HJCS’s operations.
The HJCS officially opened as a museum in 2014.
In a 2020 article that appeared in the Voice, Currituck County Director of Travel and Tourism Tameron Kugler noted, “This school and museum began a long journey of restoration in 2003 and it took a tremendous effort from the community, the architect and the contractor to get it back into the shape that it is today. It was such a worthwhile and important project for both the Historic Jarvisburg Colored School Board and Currituck County to restore this school and share another part of the history of this area.”
She added, “Today, the school and museum are placed on the National Register Historic Places. Not only is it a great story, it is a tribute to the African American community and leaders, both past and present, who built and have now restored this school.”
For her part, Simpson hopes that soon HJCS will have the funds to computerize its displays so that when guests arrive, they’ll hear the recorded voices of children playing and singing in the playground to simulate what it was like when the school was filled with activity.
(HJCS is open Wednesdays, Thursday and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is free to the public. Masks and social distancing are required. Donations for preservation of the grounds are welcome. For more information, go to www.hjcschool.org.)
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