CHELSEA, Manhattan (PIX11) — An empty building in Chelsea is filled with history.
The structure on West 17th Street dates back to the mid-1850s and a time in New York City when schools were segregated. It was known as “Colored School Number 4,” and it was staffed by African American teachers.
Eric K. Washington is fighting to make sure the story is not forgotten.
“Throughout most of the 19th Century, public schools in the city were segregated,” Washington said.
In 2018, he filed a formal request with the Landmarks Preservation Commission. He had been working on a book about someone who attended the school.
“There are woefully too few sites that document the African-American experience,” he said.
This is the last school building of its kind. New York City still owns it.
Washington was on a building tour with City Councilmember Erik Botcher in December. He said there was some water damage inside. The building has been remodeled, but many original details remain visible.
This week, the landmarks commission voted to begin the first step to landmarking the property. A public hearing will be scheduled next.
Washington hopes to see a museum and community center at the former schoolhouse.
“It was kind of a joyfully, eerie feeling when we went inside. I can imagine the laughter,” he said.
Students and staff at the school witnessed the riots of 1863 outside. A mob burned down a building across the street after chasing two Black women down the road into the school.
It was a station house for the Department of Sanitation until seven years ago. After the school was closed in the mid-1890s, it was used as a clubhouse for a veterans group.