St. John Elementary

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Design by Rosenwald Foundation director S.L. Smith.[1]
Rosenwald Foundation director S.L. Smith drew up these plans for the two-room schoolhouse in 1920.[1]

St. John Elementary was a school built in 1922 in Cobham for the education of African Americans, funded by the Rosenwald grants. The school closed in 1954, not because of integration in Albemarle County schools, but low attendance. It was then sold as a private home. The structure was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in 2018, and the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. [2][3]

Rosenwald Schools

The St. John Rosenwald School is one of just over five thousand schools, shops, and teachers' homes in the United States that were built to promote and enable the education of African-Americans in the early twentieth century. The goal was to provide a clean, spacious, and affordable structure for a better learning environment.[4][1]

Of the 382 Rosenwald Schools and auxiliary buildings built in Virginia, 126 are standing (as of November 2020) and 256 have been demolished. Out of those 382 buildings, 366 were school buildings, four were teacher cottages and 12 were industrial education ‘shops’ located at county training schools.[4] St. John Elementary School is one of seven Rosenwald Schools identified in Albemarle County.[1]

In 2004, the Department of Historic Resources streamlined the process for listing Virginia’s fast-vanishing Rosenwalds on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places when the agency successfully completed a Multiple Property Documentation (MPD) form for these schools.[4] St. John Elementary School was nominated to the Virginia Landmarks Register on October 20, 1981 and to the National Register of Historic Places on October 21, 1982.[5]St. John was built to replace a previous school for Black children in Albemarle County. This was an improvement, as it had the resources for multiple well-lit rooms and at least one full-time teacher.[3]

The Rosenwald Fund contributed $700 for the St. John School, while local residents donated $500. Albemarle County provided $1,300. [6]


The first teachers were a married couple, Mr. W. Paul Thomas and Marie Thomas. Following the Thomases was Mrs. Virginia Mary. The final teacher was Ms. Ruth Quarels, who taught until the school closed in the 1950s.[3]

The school was “purpose-built,” with large east-facing windows for light throughout the day, as the school had no electricity; high ceilings for the best ventilation possible; and spacious rooms to prevent overcrowding. There was a potbellied coal-burning stove in each classroom for heating. The school had no running water, but it did have a pump and outhouses.[3]

The state of Virginia was charged with providing teachers, repairs, and in the later years, a school bus. In the earlier days of the school, students walked. The state also provided lesson plans and textbooks, albeit second hand ones from white schools in the area.[3] Lunch was not regularly provided, but there were generally sandwiches for those who could not afford food. Students from the earlier days of the school remember having a small kitchen, in which they regularly made soup.[3]

When St. John was a one-room school, each day would start with devotions (the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer or Bible verse recitation, and a song). The teacher would begin teaching the youngest children and move towards the oldest. Occasionally, the older students would help teach the younger ones.[3]


St. John Baptist Church is renovating the school for use as a community center. [7] When complete, it could fulfill community needs such as a fitness center, auditorium, meeting center, and local emergency center, as well as serving as a museum and resource library.[1] Mrs. Rebecca Kinney, the board president, says that this school "was once a tool to keep us separate, and now it will be one to unify us."[3] She has emphasized that this is a place for the whole community.

St. John Family Life and Fitness Center and Building Goodness Foundation have filed a special use permit as part of the C'ville Builds program. [8]

The renovations are on track to be completed by 2022. St. John Elementary School will be featured on the Grace Church Farm Tour in 2022.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Web. History of St. John Elementary School (Rosenwald Schools of Virginia), Website, St. John Elementary Family Life and Fitness Center, retrieved May 15, 2021.
  2. Web. Albemarle School, Mill Hill in Nelson added to landmarks list, Staff reports, Daily Progress, Lee Enterprises, July 2, 2018, retrieved July 4, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Oral history of Mrs. Becky Kinney, a student at the school from the early 1950s and an organizer of its renovation.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Web. Slideshow: Virginia Rosenwald Schools Listed on the VLR and NRHP, Website, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, November 12, 2020, retrieved June 8, 2021.
  5. Web. [1], United States Department of the lnterior . Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, Nomination Form, VLR, NRHP, 1981-82, retrieved June 8, 2021.
  6. Web. St. John School — Rosenwald Funded, J. J. Prats, Website, The Historical Marker Database, April 9, 2017, retrieved June 14, 2021.
  7. Web. Historic black elementary school envisions second life, Josh Mandell, December 3, 2016, retrieved July 4, 2018.
  8. Web. Work to convert Rosenwald school in Albemarle into community center moving forward, Allison Wrabel, Daily Progress, Lee Enterprises, April 12, 2021, retrieved May 1, 2021.

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