As it turned out,
they managed to do just that.
The Claymont Stone
School not only has been saved but its renovation is complete,
except for installation of a kitchen and landscaping. A formal
dedication will be held following the Claymont Memorial Day
parade on May 16. It has hosted several events and students from
four area schools -- Holy Rosary, Albert Einstein Academy, St.
Ann and Claymont Intermediate -- have come there to experience
what it was like to attend school a century or more ago. The
once disheveled eyesore at Philadelphia Pike and Darley Road is
now an attractive building which, if things go according to
will, along with the
restored Darley Manor Inn across the street, become the northern
anchor of the centerpiece of the Claymont Renaissance.
That is a lot more
than could be envisioned when Carolyn Wolfe Burlew, Donna Carter
Lewis and Ruth Govatos Stein sat down in Lewis's kitchen in
February, 1995, and decided to form what they would
Ruth Stein (left
photo), Donna Lewis and Carolyn Burlew formed the Friends
of the Claymont Stone School, which has taken the
renovation project from an improbable start to near
call Friends of the
Claymont Stone School to follow up on what they had told a
United States senator, the governor of Delaware, the Brandywine
Board of Education and the public through a newspaper interview
they wanted to do.
"We weren't exactly
sure what to do or what it would take. We were pretty naive at
the time. None of us had ever taken on anything like that,"
Burlew, a retired
teacher, got the ball rolling after she read that the school
district intended to tear down the old school, because it seemly
had outlived its usefulness. It had last served as Claymont's
public library and,
before that, was the home of the Claymont Community Center. It
stood empty and available for sale since 1988, but the district
had been unable to come up with a buyer.
For no other reason
than she didn't know what else to do, Burlew wrote to Senator
Joseph Biden for help. That resulted in a meeting with a meeting
with a member of his staff. Agreeing that the building was worth
saving, for historic reasons if nothing else, Biden's office,
which officially had no jurisdiction in the matter, contacted
then governor Thomas Carper, who also agreed.
The school was built
in 1805 on land donated by John Dickinson, a Delaware delegate
to the convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution and a
Pennsylvania representative to the 1776
fourth-graders Lauren Silverstein and Andrea Annal, in
costume for a Presidents Day play they performed, admire a
portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Their play was illustrative
of the kinds of activities that went on during the 125
years in which Naamans Creek School operated.
which declared independence. Doubled from a one-room to a
two-room schoolhouse in 1905, it served continuously, as
Naamans Creek School, until 1925. Between then and the outbreak
of World War II and later during the baby boom era, it was
sporadically used as a kindergarten.
Since letters from
Biden and Carper asking that it hold off on demolishing the
building to allow time to see if the ad hoc Friends could come
up with a plan to rejuvenate it were hard to ignore, the school
board tabled the motion. Meanwhile the networking that would
become the key to the success of the project had begun.
Tom, also worked in Biden's office. When he told her of Burlew's
request, it struck a responsive chord. "'That's it,' I said.
'Claymont has lost too much already.' I didn't want to see them
lose any more," she recalled. A teacher at Burnett Intermediate
School in the Brandywine district, she was a former Claymont
resident and graduate of Claymont High School, which the
Brandywine board had shut down a few years earlier.
Stein, a friend and fellow Claymont graduate. Burlew also
graduated from Claymont in an earlier class but did not know the
other two until they met to form the Friends group. Stein had
actually attended the Stone School and Burlew was slated to go
there until her kindergarten class was reassigned to the former
Green Street Elementary School.
"Donna put up $20 to
start a checking account and I put up $20 for a post office
box," Burlew said.
The group has gone
on to raise more than $600,000 for the project, including
in-kind contributions and volunteer labor. Of that $350,000 has
come from foundation grants, individual contributions and
various fund-raising activity. Grant writing is a learn-by-doing
skill the trio acquired.
Early on, architect
Jerry Booth determined that the school district had been correct
-- the building was structurally unsound. Back in 1905, when the
expansion occurred, the roof beam was improperly fitted and 90
years later the exterior walls were actually buckling.
That, according to
Lewis, resulted in a major shift in plans. "That turned it into
a renovation, rather than a restoration," she said.
The change, in turn,
led to the only significant controversy along the way. Architect
Jim Nelson, who also worked pro bono, came up with the
idea of using a copula to both correct the structural deficiency
and substitute for a skylight.
has not been sacrificed, the trio maintain. "The only thing left
of the building by then that really was original, were the
stones," Burlew said.
It also was decided
along the way that simply using the building as a museum would
be impractical if it was expected to support itself. The
original idea has expanded to include historic interpretation
and use of the facility as a venue for public and private
The thing that
enabled the project to proceed, Stein said, was the amount of
community interest and participation generated along the way.
Masonic Lodge 'adopted' the school and its members donated
volunteer labor. Claymont Anglers & Sportsmen held 11
fund-raising dinners. Paragon Engineering donated its services
throughout the project, Chieffo Electric put in an electricity
system and Delmarva Systems installed security and fire alarm
systems. Schoolhouse furniture was donated by Delaware
Architecture Foundation when it acquired the historic Brandywine
Academy building in Wilmington.
Lewis said that kind
of community support is indicative of the "heartbeat that exists
in Claymont." Renovation of the Stone School, in turn, has
contributed to the interest in community rebirth now showing up
in such things as the Renaissance movement, she said. "I feel
our organization helped get it started by getting people to
think more about their community.