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Museum to showcase history of public education

Middlesex Museum president Dr. Richard Shores looks at the 1911 Unionville High School diploma awarded to Mabel Norton. (Photos by Barbara Lovelace)
On Sunday, September 20, at 2 p.m., the Middlesex County Museum and Historical Society will open to the public its new exhibit, “The History of Public Education in Middlesex County.”

Housed in the newly-renovated museum annex in Saluda, this robust presentation traces and illustrates the multi-faceted and fascinating evolution of public education in Middlesex County from its genesis in the late 19th century to the present. Detailed plans for the opening celebration are developing and will be published in the next few weeks.

The exhibit reflects the museum’s mission to present and interpret county history, and museum president Dr. Richard Shores’ abiding interest in telling this story to county residents of all generations. A graduate of Middlesex schools and lifelong educator, Dr. Shores witnessed the growth and development of public education throughout America through the lens of milestone local events, especially the integration of Virginia’s schools.  He has codified and brought to life this chronicle, making it highly accessible to all. 

On display is a 1923 “teaching board” for use in elementary classrooms. This tool uses a rolling paper scroll to present letters, numbers, and language aids with an embedded desk platform for student use.
Dr. Shores reports, “This exhibit explores Middlesex County’s commitment to education from its early days of private academies and segregated public schools, through the turmoil and ultimate completion of mid-20th century integration, to the present diverse institutions, allowing our residents to experience the changes and development of county education through many views of the past.”

Responding to a call for exhibit items to illustrate the story, numerous community residents and volunteers have loaned the museum a colorful and interesting range of items, including pictures, diplomas, school projects, clothing, news articles, stories and artifacts.

An example is a 1923 “teaching board” for use in elementary classrooms. This tool uses a rolling paper scroll to present letters, numbers, and language aids with an embedded desk platform for student use. Another is a 1938 fifth grade school project, handwritten in a Shirley Temple Composition Book, titled “The History of Middlesex County, by Patricia Royal (now Perkinson) and Roberta Woodward (now Marshall). 

Pictures of old school buildings, such as a 1923 photo of Union Shiloh School on Route 17 in Jamaica and an 1871 view of the Bradley Swamp Academy in Wake—along with students who attended in these years—show views of long-forgotten educational facilities. A 1911 diploma from Unionville High School for Mabel Norton, grandmother of Deltaville resident Michael Hurd, brings to life county schools of the past.

In previewing the exhibit in progress, museum board member Barbara Lovelace said, “An exhibit panel that documents the 15-year-long efforts to achieve integration in Virginia’s public schools after the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision summarizes a series of events that will seem extraordinary to those who did not live through those years.”

Artifacts also of interest to Middlesex residents include a 1911 cornerstone from Saluda High School; a well-preserved picture of the 1935-36 Syringa High School girls basketball team, illustrating the fact that Syringa won the district title for this sport every year from 1922 to 1935; and yearbooks and articles from Middlesex High, including pictures of the 1993 Chargers’ state title win in football. 
Many other exhibit items showcase and commemorate the people and places that constitute the history of Middlesex education during the past 140 years.
The museum is eagerly anticipating the September 20 opening and the opportunity to share this history with the county.

posted 08.26.2009

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