Panther Branch Rosenwald School, which has stood in southern Wake County for 87 years, got a little extra protection Monday when the county board of commissioners named it a historic landmark.
The school was one of 5,300 built in 15 states from 1921 to 1926 with money from the Rosenwald Fund, set up by Sears, Roebuck & Co. co-founder Junius Rosenwald. The schools were built for the education of African-American children in the rural South, who lacked standard public schools.
To qualify for funding, Rosenwald Schools had to be the joint work of black and white citizens and both had to contribute to the cost; the state and the county each had to contribute money and agree to maintain the schools as part of the public school system; and the schools had to be built according to plans provided by the Rosenwald Fund, which came in several sizes, according to need.
North Carolina built 800 Rosenwald Schools, more than any other state. Wake County alone had 21, of which four remain.
The Panther Branch school, which opened in the fall of 1926 with grades one through seven, was a three-teacher community, with three classrooms and enough land for a playground. It attracted students from farming families who lived up to 4 miles away and walked to school. It operated until 1956.
Gary Roth, executive director of Capital Area Preservation, who described the building to commissioners at their meeting Monday, said the long-term plan for the building would be to restore it to its original exterior appearance, which will mean replacing windows that were added sometime after the school was closed.
The building and its original 1.73-acre lot are now owned by neighboring Juniper Level Baptist Church. Members of the church and of a school alumni group attended Mondays meeting to encourage the board to grant the historic designation, and to ultimately support the buildings renovation, which is expected to cost at least $350,000.
The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Its designation as a Wake County Historic Landmark means the county recognizes the property as worth preserving because of its significance in the local community. Any substantial changes to the one-story, side-gabled, wood-sided structure are subject to review by the countys historic preservation commission.
Ella Perry, president of the alumni group, said advocates for the building would like to make it into a community resource center where, among other things, it could again be used to educate. The alumni group and others have held a golf tournament, plate sales, a gospel music fest and other events to raise money for the work. They have not formally asked the county for money yet, but Perry said she hopes the county will consider helping.