Preserving the last remaining school house on St. Simons Island

Submitted by Rawson Gordon

Harrington_School_before_conservation.jpg

In 2004, Glynn County and the St. Simons Land Trust, Inc. acquired ownership of a tract of real estate, containing approximately 12 acres of land, known as the Harrington Tract and located on South Harrington Road on St. Simons Island, Georgia. The Harrington Tract includes a parcel of land containing approximately 1.7 acres, on which is located the last remaining African American school house on St. Simons Island.
The Harrington Tract was acquired by the Land Trust and the County pursuant to the Georgia Greenspace laws and the Glynn County Greenspace program. Following that acquisition, the County and the Land Trust executed and recorded various documents which restricted the Harrington Tract for the use of the public.

After several unsuccessful attempts, over several years, to find funding for the restoration of the Schoolhouse, the Land Trust determined in late 2009 that the building was so deteriorated that it was probably beyond the point that restoration was possible. The Land Trust concluded that its best course of action would be to disassemble the Schoolhouse and erect a “ghost structure” with suitable signage memorializing the site.

In early 2010, members of the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition and others interested in historic preservation decided to seek a second opinion regarding the physical condition of the Schoolhouse building. They consulted with Cullen Chambers, who is the Chair of the Technical Advisory Committee of the Historic Preservation Advisory Council of the Coastal Regional Commission. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Chambers and his staff inspected the Schoolhouse and determined that the building was structurally sound and worthy of preservation and restoration.

Once this determination was made, renewed enthusiasm for the restoration of the Schoolhouse began to build. The preservationist group and the Coalition approached the Land Trust about obtaining a long-term lease of the Schoolhouse parcel to the Coalition, in the hope that the Coalition could acquire possession of the Schoolhouse parcel and have the opportunity to preserve and restore the Schoolhouse. After several months of effort, the Land Trust and the Coalition reached agreement with respect to the terms of the proposed lease, and they submitted the lease to the County for approval.

Because the School Parcel is owned jointly by the County and the Land Trust, and because the County does not have the legal authority to enter into a long-term lease of the School Parcel, the County must convey its interest in the School Parcel to the Land Trust in order to enable the Land Trust to enter into the proposed lease with the Coalition. In addition, the Greenspace Laws require that the proposed conveyance from the County to the Land Trust be approved by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The Glynn County Attorney has recently submitted a request for the approval of the proposed conveyance by the DNR. When the approval of the DNR is obtained, the County Attorney will then seek the approval of the conveyance by the Glynn County Commission.

Editor’s note: Rawson Gordon is a resident of St. Simons Island. The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation named the Harrington School to its 2011 list of 10 Places in Peril in October 2010. Some SGA members visited Harrington School over the Fall 2010 meeting weekend, as noted here.

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