Preserving History: The African-American Community of Iron Hill
The Iron Hill Museum is dedicated to the study of human and natural history of the Iron Hill Area. The Museum is currently engaged in a project to restore the Iron Hill School #112C and document the experiences of African-American students who attended the school between 1923 and 1965.
In order to achieve this, the Museum has embarked on an oral history project to formally interview and record the memories of former students who are now between the ages of 40 and 80. Oral historian Roberta Perkins, and Museum Director Laura Lee, are leading this project. It has received funding from the Delaware Heritage Commission.
Iron Hill Community
In 1873 William McConaughey purchased land on Iron Hill to set up an ore mine. He hired immigrants and African-Americans to work in the mines. These workers and their families continued to live on the south face of the hill after the ore ran out in 1891.(James R. And James B. Owens "A history of the Iron Hill area Newark, DE.")
Close-knit and self-sufficient families interacted mainly among themselves and their immediate community. They rarely stayed from Iron Hill except to work or shop. Residents often spent their time keeping track of one another. For example, Mr. Robert Grinnage, a former Iron Hill student said: "That's the way it would go, and if something (bad) would happen they would tell someone else and the next thing you knew everybody knew it."
Pasttimes in Iron Hill:
Families enjoyed listening to the radio, attending dances and socials at the school, and playing games, some of these were hide-and-go-seek, hop-scotch, blind-man's bluff, crack-the-whip, king of the hill, jacks and cards. But baseball was probably the most popular game. "Baseball to me was a can and a stick off the tree. That type of thing. There is a word they use today - 'innovation'."
said former student Mrs. Lena Satchell Dyer. She explained, "being a child in a small community like that molded me to be the type of person that I am now: To accept what I see, fix what I can fix - what I can't fix, accept it".
Colored Schools in Delaware
In the early 1900's Delawareans realized that the public schools for African-Americans were in bad condition and needed help. In 1919, Pierre Samuel duPont resigned as president of his family business and decided to use his own money to have these schools in the state rebuilt or renovated.
P.S. duPont established a two-million dollar trust fund for remodeling some existing school buildings, replacing some and constructing new ones in Delaware. Between 1919 and 1928 duPont personally financed the construction of more than 80 schools for African-American students in Delaware.
One of these schools was Iron Hill Colored School 112C. It was built in 1923 and used as an elementary school for African-American children in the Iron Hill area. In 1965 the State legislated that all schools be desegregated. Students from Iron Hill grade 6 and above were bussed to Middletown or Howard High School in Wilmington. Some students went to the brand new McVey School in Newark.
Lessons at Iron Hill included arithmetic, cursive writing, spelling and Bible verses. Former student Mary Burke recalled how a typical day began: "We would pray, and then say the pledge, and then we got down to homework".
The teacher would work with one grade at a time, beginning with 1st and working her way all the way up before starting over.
Many students spoke of a particular lunchtime tradition. Donald Lewis explained. "Some of the kids weren't fortunate enough to bring lunch so they would bring a big old potato and put it up on the big old pot-bellied stove there in the morning and by lunch time it was done. then we had a hot plate that girls used to cook like macaroni. I never will forget that macaroni".
On Field Day, Iron Hill students competed against other African-American schools in track, baseball and dodge ball. Robert Grinnage remembered these annual events: "Years ago they used to have parades and everything and the kids would be all out of step marching of course with a band. There was something to look forward to".