Signs mark Seaford schools’ place in history

Robert White, left, and Kevin Rice of Dover-based Kent Signs place the cast aluminum marker saluting Frederick Douglass School on its base during installation Tuesday. Another Delaware Public Archives marker was placed on the grounds of Seaford Middle School, which initially was a high school. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

SEAFORD — Markers now stand in salute to the historical significance of two buildings in the Seaford School District built in the 1920s through entrepreneur/businessman Pierre S. duPont’s school rebuilding program.

In a low-key installation Tuesday, Delaware Public Archives markers were set in place on the grounds of Seaford Middle School and Frederick Douglass Elementary School.

“I think it is money well-spent to preserve the history of the local community, what these buildings mean and these locations mean,” said state Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford, who utilized Community Transportation Funds to provide the markers and signage. “If you don’t document that history, it gets lost.”

The installations, performed by staff from Kent Signs of Dover, culminated a two-year process, initiated by Seaford resident Sue Bramhall.

Ms. Bramhall, along with Seaford native/noted local historian Jim Bowden and Ron Marvil, served on a committee that collaborated with Delaware Public Archives.

“Sue actually started the process, and we noticed that there was no recognition for either of the schools here in Seaford,” said Mr. Bowden, noting that Ms. Bramhall’s grandfather had been in charge of the school board back in 1929. “We decided that, with Danny Short’s blessing that he would fund the signs, we would honor these two buildings before everybody forgot what their history was. Sue and I worked on the verbiage with the state archives. We fact-checked the story and made sure it was within the amount of words we could put in there. We wanted to tell a little bit of the story of the two buildings.”

A bit under the weather, Ms. Bramhall was unable to attend the installations, but Rep. Short was sure to give her recognition.

“These two Sue worked on. They were like a passion of hers,” he said. “She really thought that the schools should be in the mix as to what the history of these schools are.”

State historical markers saluting two Seaford schools were put in place Tuesday. Attending the installation on the grounds of the current Seaford Middle School were, from left, state Rep. Danny Short, historian/marker facilitator Jim Bowden, Seaford School District Superintendent Dr. Corey Miklus, Seaford Middle School principal Jim Cave, Katie Hall of the Delaware Public Archives and Seaford Mayor David Genshaw. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

Built as Seaford’s new high school, the structure that is now Seaford Middle School on Stein Highway was dedicated May 29, 1929, and opened on Sept. 3 of that year. It replaced the old wooden school that had burned in an April Fools’ Day fire in 1928.

At first, the school educated white students in grades 1-12, including many from rural communities that previously attended one-room schools.

During Seaford School District’s growth in the 1950s, the structure remained the high school and was desegregated in September 1961. After a new Seaford High School opened in September 1966, the building transformed to Seaford Middle School.

The second school honored Tuesday was dedicated as Frederick Douglass School on Oct. 20, 1922. It was built with five classrooms and a principal’s office on a large lot of land bordering Williams Pond. Frederick Douglass School educated African American students from 1922-66 in grades 1-11. Professor Robert W. Thomas served as principal during that time.

Renovations in 1956 expanded Frederick Douglass School to 18 classrooms, with administrative offices, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, an auditorium, a home economics room, an industrial shop, a music room and a library.

When the new high school opened in 1966 and Seaford School District restructured, the building was desegregated and became Frederick Douglass Elementary School.

Delaware Public Archives historical markers, made by Sewah Studios in Marietta, Ohio, are the result of interest to preserve history.

“All of our historical markers are proposed by people who are passionate about preserving their local history,” said Katie Hall, historical markers program coordinator for the Delaware Public Archives. “The archives doesn’t come up with marker topics on our own. They are all proposed by citizens in the community and interested in preserving history, especially pieces of history that might not make it into a textbook or that people might not otherwise know about.

“Jim and Sue were the ones who proposed this marker in early 2018. We worked with them for the research and the writing of the marker text … to bring this marker to life,” Ms. Hall said.

Mr. Bowden noted that when built, Frederick Douglass School was the most modern school in the Seaford School District. “It had all the modern conveniences. It was the envy of the whole town,” he said.

Another note of interest: The high school (current middle school) was built in a year’s time. “It was a loan of $300,000 from Pierre duPont. And at the dedication — he didn’t show up — but he sent notice that the note was absolved, and they owed no money. So, the school was free. Just like the one at Fred Douglass, it was built by the duPonts,” Mr. Bowden said.

A couple years ago, Rep. Short asked the Seaford Historical Society to help engage in the background of the city and surrounding area.

“The key is to have a list of things that are ultimately important to the community and then try to document that history and have it visibly available for people to see,” Rep. Short said.

“We thought it was the right time,” said Mr. Bowden. “Just like everything else, COVID has reared its ugly head with the installation. It has taken some time to get this done.”

Formal public dedications will be scheduled when the coronavirus crisis subsides, Ms. Hall said.