A Neighbor Long Ago…..

In honor of Black History Month. The Historic Clarksburg WV Cemetery Preservation Alliance is sharing information about the Clarksburg WV Colored School. This school was once a neighbor of the Former I.O.O.F. Cemetery on South Chestnut Street.

The following was originally posted in a Facebook Group titled You know you’re from Clarksburg, WV when….

courtesy of Robin Morris.

1886 Map of Cemetery and surrounding area

“Clarksburg’s first school for black children was erected In 1870. The one story brick building stood on Cemetery St. (later known as Chestnut St.) adjacent to the I.O.O.F. Cemetery (see map). To meet the needs of a growing population; the Water Street ‘Colored’ School was built in 1902. The name of the school was changed in 1920 to “Kelly Miller“ in honor of the prominent African American mathematician, sociologist, essayist, newspaper columnist and author who visited Clarksburg that same year. The school was expanded in 1929 to its present appearance and is currently being converted to a community center. Water St. is now known as E.B. Saunders Way – named in honor of the former principal who served from 1916 to 1956.”

“Clarksburg Colored Schools”

By J. W. Robinson, Principal

The following is a brief sketch of the Colored Department of what is known as Clarksburg Independent School District of Harrison county, West Virginia.

At a meeting of the Board of Education of the above named district July 15, 1868, a bid of $1147 was accepted for the erection of a one-story brick building to be used as a school building for the freedmen of Clarksburg Independent School District.

The building was completed in time to be occupied at the beginning of the school year of 1870.

To meet the demands of a growing population and to afford educational facilities commensurate with the advancement of the present age, the Board of Education at a regular meeting in 1900, arranged for the erection of a three-story brick building upon a lot which had been purchased on Water street.

The building and equipment when completed cost almost if not quite $20,000. The contract of this building was awarded Mr. C. D. Ogden, a colored contractor of Clarksburg.

The building contains six recitation rooms, an office, an assembly hall, and four large basement rooms, and is provided with all the modern conveniences. This building was occupied in January, 1902.

The course of study contains eight grades of common school branches and three years of high school work.

Those who complete the high school course are given diplomas, upon the approval of the faculty and the Board of Education.

The first class to graduate from the high school department was in 1895. During the succeeding eight years six males and twenty-two females have been granted diplomas.

The colored schools are under the same management and control as the white schools.

At present there are five teachers, including the principal.

The school is in session for nine months.

The following is a list of the principals:

  • Charles Ankrum, 1870-1873
  • Miss J. A. Riley, 1873-1874
  • G. F. Jones, 1874-1876
  • W. B. Jones, 1876-1878
  • M. W. Grayson, 1878-1889
  • J. S. Williams, 1889-1891
  • O. W. Boyd, 1891-1892
  • Sherman H. Guss, 18?2-1901

Professor Sherman H. Guss was succeeded by the present principal.

The present enrollment of the colored school is about 200 pupils.

The colored school library contains 337 books classified as follows:

  • Fiction, 135
  • Music, 10
  • History, 80
  • Poetry, 30
  • Reference, 37
  • Science, 10
  • Travel, 35

Excerpt from

Early Negro Education In West Virginia

by Carter G. Woodson
(Institute: The West Virginia Collegiate Institute, 1921)

Clarksburg, following in the wake of Parkersburg, soon bestirred itself in the direction of the education of the Negro youth. The first school was established there in 1867 with an enrollment of thirty pupils under the direction of Miss Josephine Gee. For her time she was a well prepared woman using up-to-date methods, and was very successful in the work there for two and one-half years, at the expiration of which she married. Her success was due in no small measure to the cooperation of Mrs. Mary Rector, Mrs. Phyllis Henderson, Mr. Fred Siren, Jr., and Mrs. Harriet Beckwith. They did not own the school property, but conducted the work in the one- room ramshackled structure. (*Another group of ambitious Negroes established a school at Glen Falls in the same county in 1872, with Noe Johnson as the teacher.)

Steps were soon taken to provide better educational facilities for Negroes in Clarksburg. On July 15, 1868, the Board of Education of that city accepted a bid of $1147 to erect a one story brick building to be used as a Negro school house. This structure was completed and occupied by the end of the school year 1870. After the school had been better housed, the work was professionally organized and thereafter intelligently supervised so as to standardize instruction.

In the beginning of this new day the school was successful in having a number of popular principals to serve it efficiently. Among these may be mentioned Charles Ankrum, a pioneer teacher who was principal of the school from 1870 to 1873; J. A. Riley, a man of the same type, serving from 1873-1874; G. F. Jones, a man of little more preparation, principal from 1874 to 1876; W. B. Jones, an honest worker, toiling from 1876 to 1878, and M. W. Grayson, who served the system well from 1878 to 1889 and did much to lay the foundation upon which others built thereafter.

The first man of extensive preparation in keeping with the standards of today was J. S. Williams, a graduate of Morgan College, who was principal from 1889 to 1891. Mr. C. W. Boyd, a normal graduate of Wilberforoe University, served the system one year – that is, from 1891 to 1892 – after which he became a teacher in the Charleston Negro Public Schools, of which he is now the head. Then came Mr. Sherman H. Guss, the first Negro to receive a degree from Ohio State University. He made a special study of the needs of the school, forcefully presented them to the educational authorities, enlarged its facilities, and developed there a high school which ranks today as one of the best in the State.

In 1901 Mr. Guss resigned to become instructor in Latin at the West Virginia Colored Institute, where he is still employed. He was followed by J. W. Robinson, a man of liberal and specialized education, who did much to maintain a high standard and to extend the influence of the Negro school, adding much to develop an intellectual atmosphere through the enlargement of the school library. After toiling in this city for a number of years he taught at St. Albans, and then became principal of the high school at Northfork while he was serving as a member of the Advisory Council to the State Board of Education of West Virginia.

For further formation on the topic of “Colored Schools in West Virginia” please visit these links:

Thank you for spending some time with us and learning more about the history and heritage surrounding the Former I.O.O.F. Cemetery.

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