Abandoned Rosenwald school in Kentucky


Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky
Date added: July 02, 2023 Categories: Kentucky School
Front facade and left elevation (2004)

The settlement patterns of African-American hamlets in the Bluegrass are unique from those found in the rest of the South. After the Civil War social and economic conditions in the South, including intensive agriculture, numerous small or marginal land holdings and a very low reserve of operating capital, encouraged the development of a scattered population of African-American sharecroppers. Contrary to these overall conditions, the economy of the post-Civil War Bluegrass was quickly reestablished, assuring that the large farm owners could afford to continue an extensive form of agriculture that emphasized specialized stock raising, and only a few labor intensive crops such as tobacco and hemp. This agricultural focus apparently favored a clustered pattern of settlement, in which the clusters were located in close proximity to the large farms so that the resident labor force would be readily available.

The residential options for most African-Americans at this time were restricted by financial impoverishment and a lack of welcome from white communities. They frequently had to settle on whatever property was made available to them. Land for clustered-house villages in the Bluegrass region was usually acquired in one of two ways: either the land was sold or given to African-Americans by local estate owners and former slaveholders, or the land was purchased by a "developer" for the express purpose of selling lots to African-Americans at a profit. In most cases, they gained ownership of a cottage and the land. Many owners remained dependent on the larger farms for employment, continuing their long-term occupational relationship, though as wage laborers rather than as slaves.

There were about thirty small nucleated black settlements or hamlets scattered among Bluegrass farms, thirteen of which were located in Fayette County. These communities traditionally appeared to have had less than fifty (50) residents with each parcel usually consisting of a residence and a garden plot of corn, collards, cabbage and potatoes that served as an additional source of food. Small tobacco allotments provided a supplementary source of income, and often such animals as hogs and chickens wandered about the yards.

The Cadentown community evolved in a similar pattern. In 1867, Owen Caden purchased just over forty-three acres of land in the eastern portion of Fayette County. By 1869, Caden began to sell individual parcels of land ranging in size from one to eight acres. Cadentown's first parcel owner was an African-American farmer, and within ten years, all of the lots had been sold. The resulting development reflected a relatively self-sustained community nestled in a rural setting and near a railroad line. In addition to the individual house parcels with their sizable lots, the community also included public sites. Several of these, including two historic churches, a schoolhouse, and a fraternal order lodge, survive today.

One of the earliest public sites established was the Cadentown Baptist Church. Soon after purchasing the land that now sits on Caden Lane in 1879, the congregation built a sanctuary on the site. The community as a whole recognized that the best hope for the future lay in the education of its children. In support of this, the church offered a portion of its lot for the construction of a school. Little is known about this school building except it was located in the same general area as the present Rosenwald School. The previous building served the community from the time of its construction until 1922.

During the 1922/23 funding cycle, Cadentown received assistance for the construction of a new school building from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The one-teacher school that was built cost a total of $3,300. This figure includes $300 from African-Americans, $500 in Rosenwald funds and $2,500 in public funds.

The design for this school building was derived from the One Teacher Community School Plan No. 1-A developed by the Julius Rosenwald Fund in the early part of the twentieth century. The plans for the Cadentown School were prepared by Frankel-Curtis Company, Architects and Engineers of Lexington, Kentucky in 1922. These Frankel-Curtis plans survive today and document that the design faithfully followed the Rosenwald plan with only a few exceptions. The fenestration patterns of the southeast and southwest elevations are the same in both plans. While the northeast elevation contains the single window into the domestic science room, the Rosenwald plan called for a series of "breeze windows" set high in the wall of the classroom. The location of the exterior door from the domestic science room is also flipped from the Rosenwald plan. The biggest difference in the two plans is the wall between the classroom and the domestic science room. The Rosenwald plan called for this to be a movable partition, but the local interpretation called for it to be a fixed stud wall.

When completed, the Cadentown School housed grades 1 through 6. The doors to the new school opened in 1923 and served the community through the school year ending in 1947. During those 24 years, the children of Cadentown were educated in a building that the community could call its own. Many of these students went on to be leaders not only in their community, but across the Commonwealth. After its closure in 1947 the Cadentown Baptist Church used the school building as an activity center. When the church moved to its new location within the community, the property and buildings were transferred into private ownership. In recent years, the property has been acquired by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government which plans to renovate the structure.

Building Description

The Cadentown School is a one-story frame structure in Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky. Rectangular in plan, it is approximately 22 feet wide and 43 feet deep. Topped with a simple gable roof, the building has a southeast-northwest orientation and is located between the former Cadentown Baptist Church and its cemetery. The site falls away slightly from the northwest to the southeast. The front elevation faces Caden Lane, which is the primary interior road for this historic, post-Civil War African-American rural hamlet.

The foundation for this structure consists of a grid of 15" x 15" concrete piers upon which the floor joists and built-up wood girders rest. Typical frame construction is used throughout. The walls are constructed of 2" x 4" wood studs topped with wood ceiling joists. Wood rafters are then placed on the top plates and define the roof shape. The concrete piers are hidden with a skirt of vertical wood boards. The floor system is wrapped with a wood band board that is topped with a wood water table. The exterior walls are sheathed with 1" x 6" diagonal boards and then covered with lapped horizontal weather boarding. This weather board has a 4" exposure. The gable roof has exposed rafter tails and is covered with composition shingles.

The front or southeast elevation is defined by a central door that was originally accessed by a simple set of steps. These steps were originally protected by a small shed roof that was supported by two wood brackets. This entrance is flanked by two narrow six-over-six wood sash windows. The southwest elevation contains two groupings of oversized nine-over-nine wood sash windows. The first group of six windows is located in the classroom space. The remaining group is a pair of the windows located in the domestic science room. The height and width of these windows allow the interior spaces to receive a considerable amount of natural light. The northwest elevation contains a single door set off-center to the body of the structure. The southeast elevation has a single oversized nine-over-nine wood sash window to provide additional natural light into the domestic science room.

The interior of the structure is divided into five spaces. The entrance vestibule, which is roughly square in shape, opens directly into the classroom. This vestibule is in turn flanked by two cloakrooms. These three spaces extend the full width of the school. The classroom is a large rectangular space that is roughly 21 feet wide by 29 feet deep. Single wood doors provide access to the cloakrooms from this space. The southwest wall contains the group of six oversized windows previously discussed. The northeast wall originally contained a large blackboard, now missing. The northwest wall retains its original blackboard as well as a single door leading to the domestic science room. A brick flue was located in the north corner of the classroom to allow for a small heating stove. This flue has since been removed and an open space exists where none was previously. The domestic science room runs the full width of the rear of the school building. This space contains the oversized windows and the door previously mentioned. In addition, the brick flue was centered on the wall between the domestic science room and the classroom, allowing for the installation of a cook stove. All of the walls and ceilings of the interior spaces were sheathed with narrow beaded board, much of which still remains.

The design for this school building was derived from the One Teacher Community School Plan No. 1-A developed by the Julius Rosenwald Fund in the early part of the twentieth century. The plans for the Cadentown School were prepared by Frankel-Curtis Company, Architects and Engineers of Lexington, Kentucky in 1922. These plans faithfully follow the Rosenwald plan with only a few exceptions. The fenestration patterns of the southeast and southwest elevations are the same in both plans. While the northeast elevation contains a single window into the domestic science room, the Rosenwald plan called for a series of "breeze windows" set high in the wall. The exterior door from the domestic science room is also flipped from the Rosenwald plan. The biggest difference in the two plans is the wall between the classroom and the domestic science room. The Rosenwald plan called for this to be a movable partition, but the local interpretation called for it to be a fixed stud wall.

Also located on the school property is the Cadentown Baptist Church and its cemetery.

The Cadentown Baptist Church was constructed soon after Cadentown was established in 1879 and was an important gathering place for the community. According to church history, the building was remodeled into a "beautiful frame structure." The one-story frame building is topped with a steeply-pitched gable roof and has a southeast-northwest orientation. Situated within forty-five feet of the road, the front elevation faces Caden Lane. The southeast elevation is dominated by a projecting bell tower that is centered on the facade. This bell tower also contains the main entrance to the church. This entrance was originally a pair of solid wood doors topped with a three-light transom. While the transom remains, the doors have been replaced with a single door flanked by a pair of sidelights. The northeast wall of the bell tower contains a single one-over-one wood sash window to provide natural light into the entrance vestibule. The bell tower extends above the peak of the gable roof of the main body of the structure. It in turn is topped with a steeply pitched hipped roof.

The northeast and southwest elevations each contain three oversized one-over-one wood sash windows to provide natural light into the sanctuary. In the 1950s, a small concrete block addition was made to the rear of the original church building. Running the full width of the church, it is topped with a low pitched hip roof. The frame portion of the structure was originally sheathed with lap wood siding that had a 4" exposure. During the 1940s, the building was covered with Brick-Tex siding. A recent remodeling has turned this structure into a single family dwelling, presently lived in by Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government employees who serve as overseers of the site. A part of this remodeling included the covering of the original frame portion and the concrete block addition with vinyl siding.

Located along the rear of the property is a cemetery long associated with the Cadentown Baptist Church. While only a few of the original grave markers remain, its location is identifiable.

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky School Plan number 1-A
School Plan number 1-A

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Front facade and right elevation (2004)
Front facade and right elevation (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Front facade and left elevation (2004)
Front facade and left elevation (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Front facade (2004)
Front facade (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Left elevation (2004)
Left elevation (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Main entry doors (2004)
Main entry doors (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Vestibule door (2004)
Vestibule door (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Interior looking northwest (2004)
Interior looking northwest (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Interior looking south (2004)
Interior looking south (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Church next to school (2004)
Church next to school (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Church next to school (2004)
Church next to school (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Cemetery (2004)
Cemetery (2004)

Cadentown School, Lexington Kentucky Cemetery (2004)
Cemetery (2004)