They’ve been peeling back the layers of time one board, one nail and one layer of paint at a time.

They’ve been peeling back the layers of time one board, one nail and one layer of paint at a time.
They were a couple of staffers from the nonprofit organizations HistoriCorps and a small army of volunteers who have pitched in to help with the preservation and renovation of the structure that has become known as the 1872 Neosho Colored Schoolhouse or the George Washington Carver Schoolhouse.
The work was sponsored by the Carver Birthplace Association and represents a whole lot of passion and dedication by many folks here in the Neosho area who have had the vision to pursue the project and perseverance to realize that vision will take years to become a reality.
This project is not a sprint, it is more of a marathon. It will likely be years before the vision of those involved in the preservation effort is realized.
It’s a “little building with a big story,” according to information passed along by the Denver-based HistoriCorps. The organization tackles historic restoration projects across the nation by mostly utilizing volunteer labor with professional direction provided by HistoriCorps staffers.
Charlotte Helmer and John Bales were the staffers on the Neosho project. Both had very positive things to say about the reception they’ve received here and the hospitality shown by people in the community who had stepped up to provide meals, pitch in on parts of the project and drop off cold bottles of water on a hot summer afternoon.
The big story is that the little building at 639Young Street laid the groundwork for an education for a young man who would make major and positive changes in the world — George Washington Carver.
In an era of segregation and post-Civil War Reconstruction the unimposing clapboard structure served as a school for local black children who were not allowed to mingle in public schools where the white kids were.
Since the 1890s the building served as a home to generations of local residents. Each resident probably left their mark on the structure — some enhancing it; others likely taking away some of the substance of the original building.
I’ve enjoyed hearing about and reading the stories of Roy Shaver and Kay Hively, who have vivid members of entering the building after it had been foreclosed on by a bank and donated to the Carver Birthplace Association. At that time the prior residents had pretty well trashed the structure and left behind piles of their trash.
It was targeted for demolition when they, and others involved in local historical preservation efforts, called in a National Park Service’s historic architect. At that time they had no idea of the age of the building hidden behind those layers of more recent additions.
But that historic architect Al O’Bright did not take long to enter the building and determine that underneath the sheetrock, layers of old wallpaper and paint that the building dated from the 1870s.
Bingo. The seeds of restoring the structure were planted. That was in 2004.
The work of the past three weeks was focused on removing those layers that had been added over the past 12 decades or so. Those additions included insulation, a front porch, a rear addition and concrete that was jack-hammered away and removed one chunk at a time.
In the future to help the vision become reality the Carver Birthplace Association will be charting a course of action based on recommendations from Neosho’s Kim Mailes, who has been on site and deeply involved in the preservation effort, and HistoriCorps’ John Bales.
Those plans are going to take money to come to fruition. The sooner those funds come in the sooner the vision will be realized.
As those plans are developed and the need is fine-tuned please consider making a place in your giving to contribute to this worthwhile project.
By doing so you will be helping save a unique part of local history which has had an impact across the nation and the world through the education George Washington Carver received in the “little building with a big story.”

Mike Elswick is the managing editor of the Neosho Daily News and  writes a weekly column.