Restoration pushed for former segregated Indiana high school

It was a place where Black students were educated at a time when they couldn’t go to school with their white peers, and local preservationists believe the history and appeal of the building can still teach valuable lessons almost 130 years after it was constructed.

Posted: Aug 30, 2020 5:15 PM

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — It was a place where Black students were educated at a time when they couldn’t go to school with their white peers, and local preservationists believe the history and appeal of the building can still teach valuable lessons almost 130 years after it was constructed.

Lincoln Crum makes it a point to visit the former Taylor High School along Wall Street in downtown Jeffersonville just about every day. He pauses, puts his hand on a plaque that lists the school’s song, and reflects on the history of the building and its relevance to today.

“Some of Jeffersonville’s finest people were educated there,” said Crum, who is a Jeffersonville business owner.

Crum has been pushing in recent months for action to preserve the building and to find a reuse for the facility. It’s owned by Geo. Pfau’s Sons Company, which obtained the property where the school is located in 1987 during a school system auction.

Owner Ned Pfau said company officials didn’t realize what the building was when it was bought along with the surrounding property. The company uses the space downtown for its manufacturing operations, though the former building sits empty.

The company has made efforts to save Taylor High School from disrepair including putting a new roof on the building a few years ago. But the coal-fired units inside the facility haven’t worked for several years, and Pfau said the lack of heat can affect the interior of a building over time.

Pfau said the idea of saving the building isn’t a new concept, and that the company’s position hasn’t changed.

“Going back to 2003, we have offered to various groups locally that they could have the building, but that they would have to move it,” Pfau said.

There are business operations occurring on the properties immediately adjacent to the structure and there’s a parking lot nearby for employees. If the goal is to reuse the building, it would have to be moved so that it wouldn’t interrupt the company’s operations, Pfau said.

In the past, the company has offered to help with the moving process, he continued. He said it will likely be a costly endeavor to move the building to another site, but he suggested that an organized group could approach different entities for grants and could raise funds for such a project.

In 1872, Jeffersonville segregated its public schools, and Black students attended the old Mulberry Street School.

Robert Frank Taylor was a standout student. In 1882, he was one of the first three Black high school graduates in Jeffersonville and the first valedictorian. He was immediately hired as a teacher and became the first principal of Wall Street School, or City School, as it was often called, when it was constructed in 1891.

Taylor continued in that role until his death in 1926, but his legacy and influence on local education wasn’t forgotten. In 1924, before his death, the school was renamed in his honor.

The building has several historical features, both physically and in a broader sense.

It was designed by renowned local architect Arthur Loomis. He’s known for several contributions to the Southern Indiana and Louisville landscape including the Carnegie Library in Warder Park and the Conrad-Caldwell House in Louisville.

The building was also the first school in Jeffersonville specifically constructed for Black students.

Corden Porter was the final principal of Taylor High before the school system was desegregated in 1952. His great-grandson, Ben Porter, said people often told stories about the contributions Corden Porter made toward educating young men and women.

“He was loved by everybody in the community no matter what race,” Ben Porter said.

People like Corden Porter, Robert Taylor and the students who earned their education inside of the building are reasons why it should be salvaged and restored, he continued.

“We cannot forget our past but we can learn from our past and move forward to be a better society,” he said. “I feel like a lot of African-American history is not taught and it’s important to remember those who sacrificed for future generations.”

As segregation ended, Jeffersonville caught the attention of national media. An article from the New York Times Magazine, which is kept on file in the Indiana Room at the Jeffersonville Township Public Library, captures the scene at Spring Hill Elementary in 1954.

Pictured on one of the pages are two fourth-graders walking arm-in-arm back to the school from recess. A headline below the photo reads “What happens when segregation ends.”

Local preservationists don’t want to wait until it’s too late.

In New Albany, the City-County Building now sits on the site where the former Scribner High School was located. It was where Black students went to school until 1952, but it was torn down to make way for the government building.

Laura Renwick, community preservation specialist for Indiana Landmarks and an administrator for the Jeffersonville Historic Preservation Commission, said it’s a worthwhile effort to save the Taylor High School building.

“Obviously it tells an important story about the segment of the city’s population and the city’s history that oftentimes doesn’t get told,” she said.

Last week, Renwick, on behalf of the preservation commission, sent a letter to Pfau stating that the body would be interested in partnering with the company on a potential project to restore the school building.

The commission also expresses in the letter its willingness to help Pfau have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building could be used for a variety of purposes, Renwick said.

“The sky is the limit with a building like that,” she said.

Crum also suggested that the building could be used in a variety of different ways from tourism to commercial.

“It just reeks of ‘please save me’,” Crum said.

He vowed that he will continue to raise awareness about Taylor High School on social media and through grassroots efforts.

“My mission is to make sure the history of Black history is told,” Crum said. “It has everything to do with telling the story. My fight is saving the school.”

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Source: News and Tribune

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