A historic Black school will soon be a museum memorializing the students and teachers who worked there, with recent action by the Leesburg Town Council allowing those plans to move forward.
The council unanimously approved a rezoning and text amendments for the 20 Union St. NW property, along with endorsing its inclusion in the town’s Old & Historic District.
The site is the former center of education for the county’s Black students from the early 1880s to 1958—first as the Leesburg Training School, then the Leesburg Colored School, and later as Douglass Elementary School. The slightly less than one acre property contains the former school building, which has been used on and off as storage for the school system for years, and an adjacent office building that houses Loudoun County Public Schools’ Child Find program.
A little more than two years ago, Loudoun County Public Schools transferred the property to the Board of Supervisors. Both the Douglass Alumni Association and the Loudoun Freedom Center have expressed interest in repurposing the former school as a museum and/or cultural center honoring African American heritage, although no curator for the property has yet been identified. That is expected to be considered by the Board of Supervisors in the coming months.
Current plans by the county include restoring the building to reopen it as a museum, displaying artifacts of Black education in Loudoun and a “Hall of Fame” that tells the stories of the teachers who taught at the school and the students who attended. A potential two-story addition of the north side of the former school building is contemplated in the plan. The long-term vision for the property, according to documents submitted by the county government, also includes retrofitting the facilities to promote STEM activities, developing programs on how to grow food as part of the educational outreach of the museum, and establishing a DNA lab at the site to process materials that may be found at slave cemeteries, an area that has been of particular interest to the Loudoun Freedom Center.
For the plans to proceed, town and county government staffs working together determined the best way to move forward would be to consolidate the property into the G-C (Government Center) District and the Old & Historic District, and to do so concurrently with zoning text amendments that support the addition of the property in those zoning districts, according to a staff report. The property is currently split zoned between the R-HD and R-6 zoning districts, as well as between the H-1 and Gateway districts. The G-C District allows a museum as a by-right use, and adding the property fully into the historic district helps ensure that the buildings on site will be adequately preserved.
Adjacent property owner Eugene Scheel, also a local historian and mapmaker, noted that Loudoun County Public School teachers had visited the building since the 1970s. During the last visit, a decade or so ago, questions about the structural integrity of the building’s floor caused teachers to confine their visits to the exterior of the building.
“It’s an extremely important building and I’m all for its preservation,” he said. “It’s one of the few old African American high schools that’s still in pristine condition in Virginia. It was once known as Loudoun County High School among the Black community because it was their high school. There’s more to the building than one can see.”