There is a movement underway to save the Nassau School in Belltown.
Interested residents, Lewes Historical Society and Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice have joined forces to establish the nonprofit Nassau School Coalition.
The brown-shingled building that sits along Route 9 west of Five Points was purchased as part of the sale of land by the Best family to Delaware Department of Transportation. Used for storage by Best Ace Hardware, the building has been cleared out, said Barbara Vaughan, a coalition steering committee member.
Vaughan said after a meeting with DelDOT officials, the consensus was the building must be moved off site to make way for future road work. Vaughan said a committee is looking at possible places to move it, with the goal of keeping it as close to Belltown as possible.
“So much groundwork has to be done before any final decisions can be made,” Vaughan said.
She said all options are possible including sale, lease and donation of the building.
Vaughan said a large swarm of bees has nested in the west wall and must be removed before any work can take place.
From 1922 to 1925, thanks to more than $6 million provided by Delaware industrialist and philanthropist Pierre S. duPont, 80 black schools were constructed throughout the state, with 33 built in Sussex County, including the Nassau School and Rabbit's Ferry School off Robinsonville Road. The former duPont school in Rehoboth Beach, on Oyster House Road, is now home to Immanuel Shelter.
“A lot of the schools have been restored or repurposed,” Vaughan said. “It’s important because this is part of our heritage.”
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 the school had no running water or electricity and was heated by a coal stove with kerosene lamps for lighting.
Editors note: The location of the Rehoboth duPont school has been corrected, it is on Oyster House Road.