A project long in the works made giant strides this past week as layers of siding and insulation, additions made in recent decades and a concrete slab were removed from the site of the 1872 Neosho Colored School.
For years local history buffs and others in the know were certain the lot at 739 Young Street was the location where the schoolhouse where botanist and education George Washington Carver's own education got started.

A project long in the works made giant strides this past week as layers of siding and insulation, additions made in recent decades and a concrete slab were removed from the site of the 1872 Neosho Colored School.
For years local history buffs and others in the know were certain the lot at 739 Young Street was the location where the schoolhouse where botanist and education George Washington Carver’s own education got started.
Al O’Bright, historic architect with the National Park Service based in St. Louis, was in Neosho Friday to visit with local officials from the George Washington Carver National Monument, volunteers, local officials and representatives of HistoriCorps, the group overseeing this summer’s effort to renovate the structure.
“I actually kind of kick started this project about 12 years ago,” O’Bright said. He was called to Neosho to take a look at a house in poor condition, which had been altered in ensuring decades and was about to be demolished.
“They asked me to come down to take a look at the building that was to be demolished, which had been thought to have been the site of the school house that George Washington Carver, to ensure that it was not historic,” he said. “Within about two minutes I determined it was of mid-19th century construction.”
The house was in poor condition in 2004 on that visit but a wall had been removed exposing framing with clues to the structure’s age. The house was donated to the Carver Birthplace Association by the bank that had foreclosed on the property.
About five years ago Angie Gaebler, historical architect with the Kansas City-based architecture firm of Strata Architects, started work on a historic report on the structure through a contract with the National Park Service.
“That report serves as a planning document and lays out a game plan for renovation and preservation,” Gaebler said. That document provided steps needed to not only keep the structure from further decay and deterioration, but information on a long-term plan to maintain the property and the building.
O’Bright said that report and the work that went into it led to the work going on this month.
“When we did the historic structures report about five years ago with Angie Gaebler’s group we solidified that it was, indeed, the real deal,” O’Bright said. That research firmed up the clapboard structure had served as a school for blacks in the 1870s until the early 1890s and was the location where Carver first went to school.
Jim Heaney, superintendent at the Carver National Historic Site in Diamond, said Carver was denied an education in his nearly all-white hometown of Diamond in the Reconstruction days after the Civil War.
“He walked the eight miles to here and stayed with Andrew and Mariah Watkins” who lived a couple of lots down from the two-room school.
“The time here was a very important part of Carver’s life,’ Heaney said. “The Wakins’ cultivated his devotion to God and it also represented the first time he lived in a black community.”

Gaebler said her work on the report started in 2011 and was completed in 2012. It involved working with structural engineers; mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers; testing of the wood and a detailed record of the existing condition of the structure.
“From that we developed a long-term treatment plan that was period specific to the way it was when it was a school house from 1872 through 1891.
Gaebler said she feels there are probably residents who may have more information on the old school house and she encourages anyone with any tidbits to come forward and share.
Removal last week of layers of sheetrock, siding, paneling and insulation revealed an original wood floor still intact along with wainscoting, lathe and plaster walls along with window trimming, she said.
“We’re missing the window sashes,” Gaebler said. The work also revealed the siding on the east and west side of the structure is original while the siding on the north and south sides is newer.
Gaebler said after the building ceased being a school in 1892 it had several additions and alternations made. Those included a stairway added to access the second floor, the addition of a front and back porch.
“There were lots of layers and each one tells a story,” she said. “The work reveals different episodes. It was probably originally built as a residence and converted to use as a school.
Kim Mailes, former Neosho resident who has been heavily involved in planning the renovation work, said the project likely willnot be completed for at least several more years.
“We’re going to have to raise a lot more money to fund work after what HistoriCorps is doing now,” Mailes said. “We’ll be pursuing large donations but welcome contributions of any size,” he said. Those contributions can be made to the non-profit Carver Birthplace Association.
Now HistoriCorps staff and volunteers are spending three weeks in town uncovering and exposing most of the school. Volunteers from across the nation arrived this past week.
This first group of volunteers will end their duties today with a new crew scheduled to arrive Tuesday and work until the following Sunday, and the final crew set to work from Monday, the June 27 until Friday, July 1.