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Gerri Seay: Leon County Drops the Ball on Lake Hall School

After the Civil War, a group of freed slaves purchased land from plantation owners who had fallen on hard times and built the Lake Hall School.

// April 9, 2022,

4:35 am

Updated:April 12, 2022

OPINION

Gerri Seay and others working to preserve the Lake Hall School House photographed outside it. | Facebook

Leon County staff botched this preservation project. I was so excited for Tuesday’s Leon County Commission meeting that I asked Our Tallahassee to publish an item encouraging historic preservation advocates and concerned citizens to attend in force.

I have spent a substantial part of the last three years trying to get the county’s support on preserving the Lake Hall School— located just off Thomasville Road out towards Bradfordville. The last option is to save it through eminent domain.

Why Lake Hall School is important

After the Civil War, a group of freed slaves purchased land from plantation owners who had fallen on hard times. These emancipated slaves were from the Killearn Plantation (now McClay Gardens). They purchased other nearby lands that they could walk to and from McClay and Lake Overstreet, farmed many of these lands and caught fish from Lake Hall. In 1870 they built the Lake Hall School to educate their children!

The school was open until the 1950’s and is the oldest African American school in Leon County and the second oldest in the state. For generations the school has remained nestled among the descendants of those freed slaves, but gentrification has found this community.

The school has sat empty and is fairly safe, but it needs to be protected and restored.  Moving it is NOT an option.

Viewing the Lake Hall School takes you back in time. It gives you a perspective on how important education was to freed slaves. Granted, by 1890, Jim Crow laws severely set back many of these dreams, BUT the school is testament that freed slaves UNDERSTOOD that education was the path to growth and prosperity.

County Support Just Not There

The school has an historic zoning protection around it, but ownership through eminent domain around a small border of the schoolhouse would allow us  to write grants. These grants are available to provide all the funding necessary to preserve and restore the school and open it to the public.

it pains me to say this, but county staff has found a way to dissuade commissioners from supporting efforts to save Lake Hall School. County commissioners tend to lean heavily on staff analysis which makes me skeptical that they will support the item. None of the work that I have handed in made it into their analysis. The commission is not famous for seriously listening to community input, so you may as well save your gas and parking money.

I am additionally taken aback that $1.8 million is dedicated — $800,000 of which was paid by the county — to save the Miccosukee Elementary, 1840, renamed the Concord school — yet the county can’t find a way to save a school built in 1870 by freed slaves for the education of their children.

Don’t Get Your Hopes Up, but…

I will still attend the meeting and certainly would be happy to see you there, but I do want you to know what to expect.  If you can contact, or have a relationship with, any of the commissioners let them know you want the Lake Hall School to be preserved for the public. I’ve broken through many brick walls in pursuit of this project, maybe we can break this one down, too.

The Leon County Board of Commissioners meets Tuesday at 3 o’clock, the agenda is available here.

Gerri Seay, PhD, is a retired, tenured faculty at Florida A&M University (FAMU). Dr. Seay holds a BS in Special Education from Virginia Commonwealth University, a master’s degree in English from Georgetown University and a PhD in English from the University of Florida.

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7 Responses

  1. Here is my thoughts, sorry if it offends anyone but, that Building needs a full Restoration/Remodel done to it and when finished, you would be lucky to have 25% of the original structure remaining. There are many Beautiful 1300SqFt and Larger 3/2 Homes with Garages being built for $250 to $300,000 all over Town so, this should be a lot cheaper to do since it is just a small one room School House. SO, with that said, my suggestion is, build an exact duplicate of that School House 25 feet from the original. While one Crew is building the new Building, a second Crew is meticulously taking apart the Old Building to use a lot of it on the new structure. The exterior Siding gets reused as well as any Interior pieces. This shouldn’t cost more then $250,000 ($250,000 tops), hopefully less, depending if you are preserving how it was originally built or how it was before it closed down. Personally, I vote for how it looked when it was first built so Kids today can actually SEE how it was back then. The $1.8Million for an 1840 School House is just stupid.

  2. Are you a preservationist or qualified archivists; archaeologists any of the above? I’m just saying you completely 100% missed the point. Unless you have personal knowledge and inspected the building how can you comment on preservation. That’s what this is, a preservation project. When you find a historical vase broken,
    you put it together; you don’t recreate it. The breakage is the beauty. That is the integrity of preservation. The walls of the school echoes the voices of the children and the men that were slaves that built it. You only get one shot at preservation and then it disappears. Preservation cannot be duplicated by its very nature.

  3. Gerri,

    You should run for Leon County Commissioner At-Large. Nick Maddox has not served us well. I was impressed when you ran against Curtis Richardson and exposed his “bundled” contributions from Special Interests which he denied.

    I believe saving the Lake Hall school is very important!

  4. Also, what is the actual Address of it so I can see it for myself I think outside the Box a lot and I may have a Plan. I just need to get a lay-of-the-land to see what is needed and what can be done if anything. This is a quote from a couple of articles I have read, “The one-room structure is at risk of being destroyed because of its poor condition” which is why I said what I said in my first post, a lot of it will need to be replaced.

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