Historic Lynn Street school receives new wall

The wall won’t come tumbling or crumbling down.

The funding came together for a new south wall to be erected on the Lynn Street Colored School Center of Goodwill in Seymour.

Now, the nonprofit organization’s committee can move forward with the next steps of getting a new roof, windows and doors installed on the building that was constructed in 1870.

In 2021, the organization received a $10,000 grant from the Standiford H. Cox Fund for masonry repair and structural stabilization of the school, which only has one of the two original parts of the building still standing at 208 S. Lynn St. The fund supports the restoration, preservation, operation and ongoing maintenance of African American historic sites in Indiana.

The organization also received a $2,500 grant from Indiana Landmarks to work with an engineer to figure out how to stabilize the south wall of the building, and it received money from the Dovie Stewart Cox and Chester A. Cox Sr. Memorial Fund.

In total, around $30,000 was needed to rebuild the wall. The remainder of the cost came from private donations, said committee member Kay Shelton Welton.

The project is particularly special to her since her mother, Thelma Shelton, lives next to the building.

“It has been a big, big thing for me and the family,” she said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen before the building fell, so it has been really big for me, and I’m so excited. I’m hoping that we can continue on.”

Ortiz Masonry completed the work on the wall in a couple of weeks.

Committee member Sondra Gentry said volunteers had been at the site in recent years helping clean up the area, and they saved bricks that had fallen off of the building and stacked them up.

The sand bricks were made onsite by Travis Carter’s company, which was responsible for the construction of several other buildings in Seymour as the city was growing rapidly from the 1850s to the 1900s.

“They used that brick and put the bricks back on,” she said of the contractor.

She, too, is glad to see the wall stabilized.

“Oh yeah. It was a huge step,” Gentry said. “If we hadn’t saved that wall, that building would collapse. We were really worried about the building falling in. I am so happy we saved that building. That’s a great historic building for Seymour, so I really did not want to see that collapse.”

In total, Gentry said it will take more than $300,000 to get the building completely fixed.

She said Royalty Roofing in Seymour has been good to the organization by covering the roof twice until a new one can be put on.

“That’s the next thing that has to happen,” Gentry said. “We’ve got to get some of those beams put in. We’ve got to get that done and get the roof on. I hope to get it done this year if we find the money for it.”

She said they will have to get a new estimate because the ones they have are two years old. Royalty will be one of the asks.

“We would like to have them involved in it. They’ve been really good,” she said. “I think it’s going to be pretty expensive, but that’s our next step so that the inside can stay dry.”

Then the focus will turn to the windows and doors. Gentry said the ultimate goal of turning the building into a place where people can learn about its historical significance is still in the plans.

“We’re just trying to get it done piece by piece,” she said. “There’s no way we are going to be able to come up with all of that money at one time, but the community has been really good to us. They have stayed invested, and it has paid off.”

John Newby and William Maddex started the school. For a period of 10 years, it had more than 125 students. And at one time, the church next door served 219 families.

The Great Depression and later World War II, however, caused some African American families to leave Seymour for jobs in larger cities such as Detroit and Chicago.

The school only had 11 students in 1929 when the state board of health condemned the building because it had poor ventilation, heating and lighting, no water supply and no sanitary system and was unsanitary.

State officials gave the school board three options: Remodel the building and bring it up to code, tear it down and start all over or sell the property and integrate the students into other schools.

The board went the latter route, and the three pieces of property were purchased by the Maddex family for $610.

Edgar Maddex, who was a student at the school while growing up in Seymour, and Adabelle King Maddex started the Goodwill Center in the basement of the church. All of the center’s services were free to anyone, no matter their race, and the Maddexes did what they could to help people.

Edgar took some of the donated furniture to Indianapolis to sell and used the cash to buy food and clothing and provide assistance to Seymour families. The center also provided annual holiday dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Edgar didn’t want to get paid for running the center or serving as a minister. The only money he accepted was for his jobs as a barber and cleaning places with his daughter, and his wife ran a restaurant.

A fire damaged the building in 1941, and for a while, the Goodwill Center was housed in the basement of the church. A year later, the building was turned into a dormitory for those building Freeman Field as a military base during World War II.

By 1960, the Goodwill Center had outgrown its space and moved into the former school building.

After Edgar died June 22, 1973, his daughter, Blanche Maddex Smith, carried on his legacy by maintaining the center until ill health forced her retirement.

Since its closure in the 1980s, the building had deteriorated, and the Shelton family used it as storage. The south portion of the building fell down years ago, most likely because of its old age.

Several years ago, Welton approached then-Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman with her vision of the property. The former school building once was on the Seymour Heritage Foundation’s list of most endangered buildings because of its condition.

Terrye Davidson, who was director of Leadership Jackson County at the time, learned about the family’s vision and thought it would be a great project. The 2016-17 history project team of Ron Duncan, Amanda Lowery, Luke Schnitker, De Gamroth and Daniel Taskey led the charge.

They helped the family fill out applications for nonprofit status and grants, worked with Indiana Landmarks to have architects assess the building and establish a plan and arranged cleanup days to work on the inside and outside of the building.

Since then, it has been a matter of obtaining the money needed to put the committee’s plans into motion.

Anyone interested in donating to the project may send it to P.O. Box 77, Seymour, IN 47274.

Welton also said a fundraiser is planned for 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 11 at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Seymour. That will include celebrating veterans since it falls on Veterans Day, dinner, live entertainment, a silent auction and a dessert auction. People also can go out to Freeman Municipal Airport to visit the Tuskegee Airmen memorial and Freeman Army Airfield Museum.

Joining Welton and Gentry on the organization’s committee are Xaviera Shelton, Ron Duncan and Stephen Imlay.