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Volunteers pack historic Sumner School’s items for preservation

The former Sumner School, which opened in 1862, was the first African-American school in West Virginia, which was Virignia at the time. (Photo by Candice Black)

PARKERSBURG — Volunteers came to the former Sumner School Thursday morning to pack away artifacts and pictures to be stored at the Parkersburg Municipal Building to help preserve them.

According to city development director Rickie Yeager, United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, Downtown PKB and the ambassador program helped coordinate the project.

Earlier this year, a facility needs assessment took place to see what the building on Avery Street needs to be brought up to code for use. The amount of money needed for the project is in the millions, Yeager said.

“We’re going to store the collection until that work can be done in the future. We don’t want the collection to deteriorate anymore than it has because of the lack of proper HVAC conditions and things like that,” Yeager said.

The future plans for the building, which had served as a museum and tutoring center for local students, have not yet been decided, Yeager said.

United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, Downtown PKB and men from Recovery Point help coordinate the project. (Photo by Candice Black)

“While we move the collection out, there’s a group of folks that are collaborators that are trying to come up with ideas of how the building could be re-used and then go out and work with the Sumnerites Association to find grant funding to help,” Yeager said.

Men from Recovery Point helped to take the photos out of their frames, wrap the photos and record what the picture is and where it was located in the building to have a database.

Andrew Scaggs from Recovery Point came to help out.

“I feel like it’s really important to remember this,” Scaggs said, noting the historical significance of the Parkersburg school.

Sumner, which opened in 1862, was the first African-American school in West Virginia, which was Virginia at the time.

Sumner School alumna Toni Oliver guides the volunteers on how to record information about the pictures being packed away for storage. (Photo by Candice Black)

“We want to preserve community assets like this. The city has helped with the facility needs assessment and having that work done and paid for. We really want to preserve the history for future generations because it’s very unique,” Yeager said.

Toni Oliver is an alumna of Sumner School who is hoping to continue a legacy started by her mother, Rae Brown. She opened the doors of the former school as a tutoring center in the 1980s. Brown collected pictures and put them in $1 frames.

“That’s one of the reasons that we are trying to save the pictures is because they’re in dollar frames and they really should be in archival glass,” Oliver said.

The pictures will be scanned so they will be available digitally, Oliver said.

Candice Black can be reached at cblack@newsandsentinel.com.

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