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Preserving West Virginia: Riverside School

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Preserving West Virginia takes a trip to Elkins where volunteer groups are trying to preserve the only African American high school in Randolph County.

The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia Endangered List helps focus attention on the most pressing issues or significant resources in the state. One of the endangered properties is the Riverside African American School.

"It functioned as the African American School, the high school, the elementary school different capacities it started off as one story building it grew to two," said Logan Smith.

55 years of neglect has taken its toll. Water intrusion has caused severe structural deterioration to Riverside's interior walls, floors, windows, and roof. What makes this building highly significant is its history as the educational forum for the black and Native American populations of Randolph County and surrounding areas for five decades.

"It was a fantastic space. It was very culturally, it seemed like it was culturally cohesive in that area," Smith said.

School alumni and a dedicated team of volunteers are working to rehabilitate the building.

"We still have about 50 alumni still alive that went to that school, and of course at desegregation in the fifties it was abandoned and the board of education turned it into storage," Smith said.

But as a result of that dedication plans have helped save the building and draw attention to diminishing historic resources.

"The school has been stabilized, it has been upgraded electrically it has been given structural upgrades which the America Corp program played a large role in, we've had a lot of volunteer work done on the building."

One the proposals is to turn the school and make it as the new "Riverside African-American Heritage Center" to serve the local community.

"Once we can get over that finally hurdle of getting the final funds in place to finish it out and move forward with the interpretative part of this, the museum the cultural center itself, the youth center all that, I think that will bring it all into its own," Smith said.

The sixth annual Riverside Blues Festival will be held on July 19 on River Street. The school will serve as a backdrop. Proceeds will help to continue making improvements to the building. 

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