What will happen to the Nassau School?

State officials will use public input to decide fate of Belltown landmark
February 28, 2020

Story Location:
Five Points
Route 9
Lewes, DE 19958-1635
United States

State officials are contemplating the fate of the Nassau School near Five Points.

Delaware Department of Transportation officials purchased the property where the school sits as part of a deal when they bought the 4-acre Best property, location of Bests' Ace Hardware, for possible future Five Points intersection improvements.

Built in 1922, the two-room Nassau School in Belltown was one of more than 80 African American schools built throughout the state with more than $2 million in funding from Delaware industrialist and philanthropist Pierre S. duPont; more than 30 schools were built in Sussex County. The Nassau School served students in the Belltown area until 1965 and has remained almost unaltered since.

During a Feb. 24 workshop at Lewes Fire Station 2, DelDOT's Monroe Hite said a Lewes group approached DelDOT officials about possibly moving the school into the city.

“That raised a red flag because others were telling us they wanted to keep it where it is,” he said. “We understand the historical significance of the building. We want input to do what is best for the community.”

The school is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Potential future uses for the school include a museum, welcome/visitors center or community center, Hite said.

Since the property was purchased in September 2019, the school was cleaned out by the Best family, who used it for storage. In the fall, overgrown vegetation was removed from the southwest corner of the building and in the winter, a small patch was placed on the roof to stop a leak.

This spring, a plan is in place to remove a honeybee colony from the west end of the building in consultation with the Sussex County Chapter of the Delaware Beekeepers Association and the State Historic Preservation Office.

Belltown's roots date back to the mid-1800s when Jacob Bell purchased land to establish a community for area black residents, many of whom worked in Lewes.

By 1850, the small town was thriving with businesses, homes, a church and school. The current two-room building replaced the original one-room schoolhouse at the site.

In an interview with the Cape Gazette, the late Hilda Norwood Grinnage, who attended the school and later taught at Rabbit's Ferry, said for many years the school had no running water or electricity and was heated by a coal stove with kerosene lamps for lighting.

Comments on potential uses for the school will be accepted through Tuesday, March 24. Comments can be emailed to or by mail to DelDOT Community Relations, PO Box 778, Dover, DE 19903.


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