‘It’s amazing what we can do when we come together’: Chesterfield church helps restore 127-year-old African American schoolhouse

‘African School No. 4’ is the oldest surviving one-room schoolhouse for African Americans in Missouri.

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — A historic piece of African American history is getting a much-needed restoration. 

Community members came together on Saturday for the rehab project in the city of Chesterfield. 

Volunteers from United Methodist Church of Green Trails in Chesterfield spent the morning helping restore the 127-year-old African American schoolhouse.

‘African School No. 4’ is the oldest surviving one-room schoolhouse for African Americans in Missouri.  

The school was built around 1894 and local residents at the time had to fight to get it built. Now, the community is coming together to keep the history alive.

The sound of hammers and laughter filled Faust Park’s Historic Village on Saturday, as volunteers spent the chilly morning restoring history. 

The Rev. Dr. Linda Settles, pastor of United Methodist Church of Green Trails, had many of her congregation there. 

“To do something, like this, to bring people from all walks of life out to this park to do something like this, shows the power of what we can do when we unite,” she said.

That unity started when Settles saw a story on a Chesterfield Historical Calendar. It was about a group of black farmers, who built a one-room schoolhouse for their children to attend.

“Being a Black pastor at a white church in a predominantly white community, this has really helped me to find a connection with the community, and that’s what I’ve been so longing for,” she said.

Now, Settles’ congregation is helping restore, furnish and maintain the piece of history, known as ‘African School No. 4.,’ while using existing 127-year-old logs to bring it back to life.

“We’re not ignoring the fact that this is a Black schoolhouse, right, but we’re celebrating it, and we’re celebrating it together because we’re people together,” she said.

The St. Louis County Parks Foundation raised about $35,000 for this project. 

According to President Mark Ohlendorf, over $20,000 of that actually came from the St. Louis Community Foundation.

“When we first saw this, it was just like boy, we got to preserve this. It’s just too great of a history for this area,” he said.

The school was originally located on Wild Horse Creek Road, but the building was recently moved to Faust Park’s Historic Village. 

Ohlendorf said the finished product will have old artifacts from the school inside. 

“We’ll put the blackboards back up, everything we could take from the original, we’re going to put right back in,” he said.

While the work is far from over, Settles hopes the finished product will be a symbol of unity.

“We are all a part of this soil, and so to be able to have our hands in this schoolhouse, rebuilding it, and showing it for generations to come. To me, it just shows that we are all linked, and there’s nothing that divides us. If we don’t let it divide us. It’s amazing what we can do when we come together,” she said.

Settles said they are hoping to find more people with connections to “African School No. 4” and if anyone knows anything, they’re asking people to reach out to the parks department. 

It’s unknown right now when it will be fully complete because it depends on the weather. 

According to Ohlendorf, they are hoping to have it done by spring, at which point there will be a grand opening.

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