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Historic African-American Schoolhouse Moved, To Be Turned Into Museum

Peter Haden
The historic one-room school house being moved by truck.

A historic one-room schoolhouse once used to teach the children of freed slaves is being converted into a museum in Mandarin.

Workers relocated the building yesterday to the Walter Jones Historical Park on Mandarin Road. The schoolhouse will honor the area’s African-American heritage.

For the moving crew, the Mandarin Historical Society and scores of people who came out as a welcome wagon, a few broken branches were a small price to pay for getting the historic schoolhouse to its new home.

The four-mile trip took about two hours, but this isn’t the first trip the school has made. Built in 1889 for the Sisters of St. Joseph, the building originally sat at the corner of Loretto and Old St. Augustine roads. It was used until 1943. Then it was given to the school handyman, Nathaniel Long, who moved it to his place — also on Old St. Augustine road. In 1997, antique collector Dee Brown bought it and moved it to her house on Blanche Road where she restored it.

The Mandarin Community Club, the Mandarin Historical Society and the City of Jacksonville collaborated to buy the building, move it one last time and turn it into a museum.

"The schoolhouse is going to give us the opportunity to tell another story about Mandarin that hasn’t been told much," said Mandarin Historical Society President Sandy Arpen.

In the late 1800s, Mandarin had a population of about 1,200 people. Three quarters of them were black.

"It was once very predominantly an African-American community, and this is going to give us the opportunity to have exhibitions and really honor their heritage."

Fernandina Beach resident Veronda Luckett came to see the schoolhouse moved because she wanted to thank the museum for preserving this piece of history.

"Being that I’m African-American, this African-American and/or Black history — to share that with the world, I think that’s amazing. Any level of preservation that tells a true story — I’m all for it," Luckett says.

The building is the last one-room schoolhouse left standing in Duval County. It will be used to tell the story of the school and others like it. The Mandarin Historical society is planning a grand opening for next winter.

Peter Haden is an award-winning investigative reporter and photographer currently working with The Center for Investigative Reporting. His stories are featured in media outlets around the world including NPR, CNN en Español, ECTV Ukraine, USA Today, Qatar Gulf Times, and the Malaysia Star.