Rocky Branch School Preservation Plan special thank you to Angela Conklin-Brown, The Friends Group of

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  • Rachel Tippett Master of Urban and Regional Planning L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Virginia Commonwealth University

    Rocky Branch School Preservation Plan

  • Rocky Branch School Preservation Plan

    Rachel Tippett Master of Urban and Regional Planning

    L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Virginia Commonwealth University

  • Prepared For: Rocky Branch Friends Group

    Prepared By: Rachel Tippett Master of Urban and Regional Planning L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Virginia Commonwealth University

    Panel Members: Angela Conklin-Brown: Friends of Rocky Branch School Dr. Bryan Green: Primary Content Advisor, VCU Dr. Ivan Suen: Professional Plan Coordinator, VCU

  • Acknowledgments This plan would have not been possible without the guidance and direction of con- tent adviser, Dr. Bryan Green, and professional plan coordinator, Dr. Ivan Suen. A special thank you to Angela Conklin-Brown, The Friends Group of Rocky Branch School, and Rocky Branch Baptist Church for the opportunity to have a part in pre- serving this piece of Virginia history.

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    Figures and Maps

    Images AutoCAD


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    Acknowledgments 5 Figures and Maps 6 Executive Summary 8

    Section I 9 I.I 11 I.II 12 I.III 14 I.IV 15 Section II 18 II.I 19 II.II 25 II.III 38

    Section III 46 III.I 47 III.II 48 III.III 56

    Section IV 58

    Works Cited 60 Appendix A 64 Appendix B 66

    Table of Contents

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    Executive Summary The Rocky Branch School Preservation Plan creates a framework for preservation that will oversee a holistic re- habilitation of the schoolhouse. The Rocky Branch School was built in 1911 and served African-American students in the Sutherland region of Dinwiddie, Virginia until 1963. Located adjacent to the Rocky Branch Baptist Church, the schoolhouse has created tension amongst the con- gregation where some feel that demolition is the best option for the aging structure. This plan is prepared on behalf of the Friends Group of Rocky Branch School; an organization vested in pursuing all options for structural


    Due to the substantial impact that African-American schools had in shaping southern community culture for the majority of the twentieth-century, there is an empha- sis placed on preservation. As it stands, Rocky Branch School has suffered considerable damage from neglect and will require significant effort to restore the site. The school is included amongst the forty-one sites along the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail in South Central Virginia. Still, Rocky Branch suffers from a lack of fund- ing and connectivity to the broader tourism industry and required the plan process to tailor its approach for long-

    term sustainability.

    Research findings concluded that Rocky Branch School is primarily situated to capitalize on heritage tourism op- portunities in the region. This conclusion was supported through the utilization of tools common to preservation planning that include structural analysis, identification of historic value, and efforts that support inclusion with- in the cultural identity of the larger region. Embedded in Rocky Branch is a wealth of history specific to Civil Rights during the 1920s. This translates into recommen- dations that aim to align the interests of Rocky Branch with the regional narrative of Civil Rights in Education Trail, in addition to connecting the local community with

    this tangible fixture of Sutherland’s cultural past.

    This plan is presented as a platform from which all future preservation efforts can build from. Creating a baseline knowledge informs the client of present challenges, but also outlines available opportuni-

    ties if preservation is fully pursued.

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    I Client



    Section I Introduction

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    Section I

    Map 1: Dinwiddie, VA Family Search, 2015

    Although included in the regional tour of the Civil Rights Edu- cational Trail, Rocky Branch is worn down by time and offers lit- tle education or interaction for those visiting. In its entirety, the trail includes 41 sites in the south-central Virginia region and fo- cuses on sites with connections to public education specific to African-Americans. Nearby Prince Edward County is home to the trail’s primary site, the Robert Russa Moton Museum, which stands as center for education representing a decade’s-worth of public school closures in response to Brown vs. the Board of


    The Rocky Branch School in Dinwiddie County, Virginia began serving students in the early twentieth century and con- tinued to do so until the 1960s. A two- room frame construction schoolhouse, Rocky Branch was designed by and for the African-American population residing in the Sutherland community of Dinwid- die. Since the site’s closure, as a school, the building has served primarily as an auxiliary building for the adjacent Rocky Branch Church. Originally constructed on the property of Ocran Methodist Church the schoohouse was later moved two miles west to its current location off of Route 636. Many of the former students of Rocky Branch continue to live in the Dinwiddie area and are active members

    within the Rocky Branch Church.

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    Section I.I Client

    The Rocky Branch Preservation Plan is proposed to assist the Friends of the Rocky Branch School in their mission to save the schoolhouse structure of the same name. Their efforts were spurred by a di- vide amongst congregation members of the Rocky Branch Church of whether or not preservation of the schoolhouse is a worthwhile pursuit. One portion of the congregation believes that the site’s blight- ed appearance tarnishes that of the church’s and should face demolition as a result. However, due to the number of former Rocky Branch School stu- dents who now are members of the Rocky Branch Church, there is considerable resistance that op-

    poses demolition. Established under the guidance of the current pas- tor Lynn Robinson, the Friends Group is primarily comprised of former Rocky Branch students who have a vested interest in seeing the site retained and restored. Acting on behalf of the congregation, the Friends Group is focused on preserving this site in order to create an educational outlet that can serve as a valuable component on the regional Civil

    Rights Education Trail.

    Image 2: Rocky Branch School in foreground. Rocky Branch Church behind Photo Credit: R. Tippett, 2015

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    Section I.II Purpose

    Image 3: Civil Rights in Education Trail Logo

    Friends of the Rocky Branch School, in their effort to explore all options preservation related, are seeking a plan that incorpo- rates architectural rehabilitation, heritage tourism, and commu- nity outreach. Essentially, the plan will create a framework that will ensure any preservation and education efforts taken now are sustainable in the long run, in order to ensure Rocky Branch’s

    viability as historic fixture for Dinwiddie.

    Sustainability is the means for which Rocky Branch will prosper long after the initial drafting of this plan. Structured in a way that identifies immediate actions and plans for future goals, the plan will offer a manageable approach for the Friends Group to move forward with confidence that preservation is realistic and feasi-


    The Rocky Branch Preservation Plan is designed to allow Rocky Branch School to take an active role in the Civil Rights Education Trail and evolve into a site that accurately portrays this segment of regional Dinwiddie history. Incorporating Rocky Branch into the larger regional narrative of twentieth century African-Ameri- can education is crucial, considering the extensive challenges presented to students, especially following the ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education and the history that can be learned

    from that time period.

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    Even though this is a site-specific preservation plan, the aspect of community engagement still remains a valuable piece in the plan process. Since this site has varied meaning to so many people, it is import-

    ant to bring that to the forefront.

    Documentation of all content related to the school is of most importance to this point as moving forward demolition may prove a reality. The tangibility of site-specific research and documentation will allow the site to live on, even if its actual presence no lon- ger remains. Still, preservation of the schoolhouse will remain the focus in an effort to persuade those in opposition of the value that such a unique site has to

    the community.

    Section I.II

    Image 4: Civil Rights in Education Trail Signage Photo Credit: R.Tippett, 2015

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    Section I.III Methods &Approach

    The Rocky Branch Preservation Plan aims to capture the school’s historical significance within Civil Right’s education and Dinwiddie history through