Once segregated Cooper Mill School is torn down

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Wearing a hardhat, Sylvia Stanley watched the noisy jaw of demolition equipment take bites out of the building where she attended elementary school.

“I would like to have a brick,” she told one of the workmen. He reached for one in pile and, with a smile, handed them out to sentimental onlookers.

Her husband, Rudolph Eugene Stanley, who she knew as a child, took a few steps closer to Cooper Mill Elementary School in San Domingo, where before integration, African-American children in first through sixth grades learned and played, happily oblivious to the segregation of the times.

Later, after integration, the building was home to the Wicomico County Teen Adult Center.

On the day of demolition, Don Hackett, executive director of the center, was remembering construction of the little overhang built to shelter those in wheelchairs from rain and snow as their chairs were lowered and raised on the bus lift.

It was paid for by proceeds from fund-raisers, Hackett recalled with a gentle smile, from bake sales to flea markets.

Standing next to him, Stanley was remembering his principal, Miss Polk, as well as Miss Taylor and Miss Williams, three of his favorites.

“There were four classrooms and a cafeteria and auditorium. The cook was Hattie Brown. She cooked country food, so we could eat,” Stanley said, laughing.

“We wrapped the Maypole right there,” he said, gesturing. Every morning there were devotions, The Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance.

“I didn’t even think about segregation. Going to school here was a beautiful experience. We had a wonderful time here. The teachers were part of the community. You had a wealth of knowledge because it was community-based. A village raised a child,” Stanley said.

It was a little difficult seeing the old school come down, he said, “but I’ve been around a while and I’ve seen things like this.”

The building became home to the Teen Adult Center in 1973. In 1999, it moved to Dove Point on Mount Hermon Road in Salisbury, partly because of the distance from Salisbury and transportation concerns, Hackett said.

“When we started here, we added classrooms. We had a greenhouse complex in the back. There was a nature trail,” said Hackett, whose family has been involved with the center since 1968. He has been executive director since the early 1970s.

“We’ve had a great deal of growth,” he said, sharing the strategic planning summary from 1973 to 2019.

In the early years, goals were as simple as providing a clean facility “with uniform painting of existing furniture” and expanding the physical plant to accommodate enrollment.

Current goals, through 2019, include strengthening direct support professionals, securing funding through multiple sources and increasing opportunities for community inclusion and educating the community to reduce the stigma often suffered by the developmentally disabled.

The mission, Hackett wrote in promotional pamphlet, is to “connect individuals and supports to meet desired outcomes, interests and needs.”

“Whether interested in vocational, residential, medical, therapeutic or children’s services, the professional and experienced staff at Dove Pointe is available to be of service,” he wrote.

Once the building is completely razed, and the rubble cleared, the county will develop Cooper Mill Park on the site and Stanley said he’ll probably spend time there, since he lives only about a mile away.

The natural park will have trees and benches, but no playground or buildings. Anybody interested in helping to plant in the spring can call Public Works at 410-548-4935.

“The San Domingo community has endured the eyesore for too long,” County Executive Bob Culver said about the unoccupied, deteriorating building.

“Among others, this was one project that I immediately identified after I took office that needed to be taken care of,” Culver said.

“I’m pleased that we were able to accomplish it and that trees will be planted for the community to enjoy a natural setting.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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