There’s been a lot of movement recently on a property that sat abandoned for more than two generations.
The aging one-room schoolhouse that once served as a hub for Ashburn’s black community will soon be made new, 57 years after it was shuttered. The Ashburn Colored School and its history was almost lost, until the Loudoun School for the Gifted purchased the Ashburn Road property with plans to restore it and turn it into a museum on the history of education.
The project, led by the private school’s eighth-grade students, hit its first major milestone over the weekend, when Ratcliff’s Masonry completed repairs to the building’s foundation. The full restoration effort is expected to cost $100,000, but the $19,250 raised so far was put toward shoring up the schoolhouses’ crumbling stone base.
And the repair work began just in time, according Katie Knipmeyer, an eighth-grade student at Loudoun School for the Gifted whose helped lead the restoration effort. “This schoolhouse could have easily collapsed had we not begun to raise money and plan for this restoration,” the 14-year-old said. “It’s really a piece of history that would otherwise be completely lost for the county.”
In a week’s time, Ratcliff’s Masonry’s crew practically built a new foundation from scratch, after workers discovered worn footers that sat just 18 inches below the surface.
“We probably ripped out 75 percent of that foundation. It was just falling apart,” said David Ratcliff, of Ratcliff’s Masonry.
They jacked up the entire 670-square-foot building in sections and installed new footers to go 2 feet below ground. They also installed a new brick chimney stem and graded around the building.
Ratcliff, who was joined by crewmembers Donald Reno, Art Johnson and Joel Baroody on the project, said the work was especially meaningful.
“I’m all about restoration and restoring the history of old buildings,” he said. “When you come in on a project like that and it’s still standing—a 100-to 200-year-old building—it’s satisfying that you’re restoring something that could last another couple hundred years.”
The original foundation, pulled together with found stones and lime mortar, shows how little the black community in Ashburn had. The schoolhouse was not funded by the Freedmen’s Bureau, as many schools for black students were in the late 1800s, but instead by local families, said Deep Sran, the Loudoun School for the Gifted’s founder and academic lead. “When you look at the actual bones of the thing, you see the scarcity, and then the importance of education for them to say, we don’t have much but we’re going to do this.”
Just this first step of repairing the foundation has given the property new life, Sran said. “This site has been dead for decades, and people will now stop and take photos and ask what’s going on, and that’s exactly what we want to see.”
The restoration work will be done piece by piece as donations come in. The next target is to raise enough money to repair and paint the siding. Then, work will begin inside the building. Interviews with former students of the school have helped Sran and his students get a visual for what it might have looked like like. There was a black wood-burning stove, a chalkboard, and a couple dozen desks.
“We want to make sure it looks like it once did, so when you drive by it you see this isn’t just a shed or an accident,” he said. “This is an important part of Loudoun’s history.”
Loudoun School for the Gifted also purchased 3 acres adjacent to the old schoolhouse. The long-term plan is to build a state-of-the-art school building that will house 120 middle and high school students, just a few hundred feet away from the 124-year-old restored schoolhouse. Sran expects to break ground on that facility late this year.
The school will host a 5K walk and run in November to help raise money for the restoration effort. People can donate any time at gofundme.com/ashburnoldschool.
Katie urged people to get involved in the helping her and her classmates return the property to a meaningful destination.
“This is really an opportunity to restore a piece of Loudoun County’s story,” she said, “and in a broader sense, inform ourselves about the social and political events that made our county what it is today.”