Having lived in Juniper Level, NC for 35 years, we’ve driven past the old Juniper Level School (just a few hundred feet from JLBG) countless times, anxiously waiting for promised renovations, before the building fell too far into disrepair. Well, after numerous starts, renovations are going full speed and we’d like to share the amazing story.
The two oldest buildings remaining in the unincorporated township of Juniper (Juniper Level) are the Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church and adjacent schoolhouse. The 3,000 square foot Juniper Level/Panther Branch Rosenwald School, operated from 1926 until 1956, and is one of only sixty remaining Rosenwald Schools in existence.
If you don’t know the story of Rosenwald schools, here’s the back story. In the early part of the 20th century, Sears & Roebuck president, Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) teamed up with renowned African-American education leader Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) of the Tuskegee Institute, to try and remedy the chronically underfunded, segregated education system for African American children. They worked together to fund construction of state-of-the-art middle schools for African-American students around the country. Between 1913 and 1932, 5350 schools (and associated structures) were constructed thanks to a matching grant program (1/3 Rosenwald funds, 1/3 local government funds, and 1/3 community funds) devised and set up by Rosenwald and Washington.
Walter Magazine recently wrote a great article on the restoration and history of the school, so instead of repeating their work, here is a link to their article.
The Rosenwald schools were all based on designs by the country’s first accredited black architect, Robert R. Taylor of the Tuskegee Institute. These plans were later standardized by Samuel Smith of the Rosenwald Foundation. Some Rosenwald schools accommodated as many as seven teachers, while others had only one. The schools, which were all conceived to also be used for community functions, were designed based on daylight considerations and the effect on the light on student eye strain. All schools have an east/west orientation, along with pale colored walls and expansive windows.
Juniper Level Missionary Baptist Church, which owns the Panther Branch Rosenwald School property, was first established in 1870 in a small log building, which continued to expand, culminating in the current main building, which was constructed circa 1920. Other adjacent structures were added later as the church grew.
We are honored to be part of the Juniper Level community, so perhaps now you understand more about why we named our garden after this tiny, almost forgotten, but historically significant community here in Southern Wake County. We’ll keep you posted on the progress of the Rosenwald school renovations and will let you know when it will be open for visitors.
As an aside, another of the many connections we have with the JC Raulston Arboretum is that they are also adjacent to another defunct African American school where the same Julius Rosenwald helped fund additions. This Rosenwald partnership was with local educator/businessman/philanthropist Berry O’Kelly. By 1931, The Berry O’Kelly School, located in the former emancipated slave village known as Method, was the largest African-American high school in NC. Only two buildings, which are now preserved, remain from its glory days. O’Kelly’s daughter, the late Beryl O’Kelly Brooks, is the namesake for the road where the JC Raulston Arboretum resides and the arboretum itself sits on land purchased from O’Kelly’s estate in 1936. I hope you have time to also read about that project and the incredible work of Berry O’Kelly here.