Preservation Progress: The Eleanor Roosevelt School

As the 50th anniversary of the Georgia Trust comes to a close, we reflect on the remarkable projects that have shaped the organization’s legacy. One such endeavor that stands as a testament to preservation and community is the restoration of the Eleanor Roosevelt School in Warm Springs, Georgia. Built in 1936 at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, this historic institution holds a unique place in the heart of Warm Springs and the annals of American history.

Named after the esteemed First Lady, the Eleanor Roosevelt School was the final school constructed under the auspices of the Rosenwald Fund, a pioneering initiative aimed at providing quality school buildings for African American children in the rural South between 1912 and 1936. President Roosevelt’s personal commitment to the project was unwavering, with him personally contributing to its financing and delivering the keynote address at its dedication in 1937.

Until the mid-1960s, the school played a crucial role in educating students from grades one through eight. Unfortunately, it closed its doors in 1972 due to countywide integration. The building, once a beacon of education, saw its windows bricked in, and for many years, it remained silent, a testament to the passing of time.

Recognizing the significance of the Eleanor Roosevelt School, The Georgia Trust listed it on its Places in Peril in 2007. However, the trajectory of neglect took a turn for the better in 2019 when the Trust acquired the property through its Revolving Fund. In 2020 the Georgia Trust found new custodians for the property in DeBron and Voncher Walker, passionate individuals committed to preserving the heritage embedded in the school’s walls.

Earlier this year, the Georgia Trust secured a substantial grant from the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights program. The grant, amounting to $694,522, is a beacon of support for the rehabilitation of the Eleanor Roosevelt School. The funds are dedicated to securing the site, providing much-needed exterior stabilization, including a new roof, and restoring the windows, doors, and masonry. Moreover, the grant will facilitate the creation of comprehensive architectural drawings, forming the foundation for a preservation plan that envisages the complete rehabilitation and sustainability of the school’s interior spaces.

The momentum for this restoration project was palpable during the well-attended kickoff event this past September at the Eleanor Roosevelt School. Attendees included Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s great-grandson, representatives from the Little White House, Eleanor Roosevelt School teachers and alumni, and individuals with a shared commitment to preserving this invaluable piece of history. The collective enthusiasm demonstrated at the event underscores the significance of this undertaking for both the local community and history enthusiasts alike.

As we look forward to the ongoing work scheduled for 2024 and beyond, anticipation builds for the ultimate completion of the property’s rehabilitation. The Eleanor Roosevelt School is not merely a building; it’s a living testament to the commitment of those who have worked tirelessly to ensure its survival. The Georgia Trust, in collaboration with dedicated property owners and the support of the National Park Service, continues to write the next chapter in the school’s storied history.

In celebrating 50 years of preservation and progress, The Georgia Trust proudly embraces the Eleanor Roosevelt School rehabilitation as a symbol of the enduring legacy of historic preservation. The countdown to the school’s renaissance has begun, promising a future where its doors once again open to inspire generations to come.

Support the work of the Georgia Trust and programs like our Places in Peril and Revolving Fund by Becoming a Member today! You can also show your support as we near the end of the 50th anniversary of The Georgia Trust by making a Year-End Gift.

See more about the history of the Georgia Trust on our 50th Anniversary blog Celebrating 50.