One-room Woodland Schoolhouse gets new lease on life


WOODLAND – Back to school.

Back in time.

Sussex County government is partnering with a grass-roots historical preservation effort that is giving the historic one-room Woodland Schoolhouse a new lease on life.

County council at its Sept. 19 meeting approved a lease agreement with the Woodland School House Association for the former Woodland Schoolhouse west of Seaford.

The schoolhouse, located in county-owned Woodland Park, is undergoing extensive renovation. It will eventually serve as an interpretive and education center.

From left, Kevin Phillips. Bethel Historical Society; Hildegard Rieger, executive director of the Nanticoke Heritage Byway; Dan Parsons, Sussex County historic preservation planner; Charlie Rieger, Nanticoke Heritage Byway; Todd Lawson, Sussex County administrator; Michael Vincent, Sussex County Council president; Bill Collison, Seaford Historical Society; Donna Tate-Steinbiss, vice president, Woodland School House Association; Karl Steinbiss, president, Woodland School House Association; Jack Knowles, Woodland resident; Donna Angell, Woodland Ferry Association; and Wanda Miller, secretary, Woodland School House Association.

The mission, says Woodland School House Association vice-president Donna Tate-Steinbiss, is to bring the schoolhouse “back to its old glory” as a functioning schoolhouse as it was for several decades following construction in 1911.

“Our objectives are not to make it a museum but a building that can be used as a classroom for students to go back in time,” said Ms. Tate-Steinbiss. “I am a 30-year veteran of Indian River School District, so history is really important to me.”

Other known one-room schoolhouses in Sussex include the Godwin School, one in Redden and another at the Marvel Carriage Museum in Georgetown.

“One-room schoolhouses are where a lot of our grandparents and such went to school,” said Dan Parsons, the county’s historic preservation planner. “They were every few miles and now they are just a rare thing.”

As an interpretive site, the schoolhouse will give students and visitors a glimpse of educational practices from the past.

Phase one restoration was completed in early June, thanks to the efforts of a handful of volunteers. Woodland School House Association members logged approximately 2,000-plus volunteer hours in the first-phase restoration.

“The work started in earnest on June 5 and finished last Friday (Sept. 15) for the first phase of the project,” Mr. Parsons said. “It ended up being about 30 tons of materials.”

Eventually, phase three will be the interior completion of the 1900’s era.

“This will enable field trips for teachers and their students to study the communities that make up Delaware by doing a profile study of the community; how important the school was and the development and of course the impact of the Nanticoke River,” said Ms. Tate-Steinbiss, who is reaching out to fourth-grade teachers in the Seaford School District. “These trips will be based on their standards in history, geography and literature. I am currently writing their curriculum as a hands-on extension of their classroom. Even if not complete by fall of 2018 they will still be invited …”

The schoolhouse was encompassed in the clubhouse of the former Woodland Golf Course, a 14-hole public course owned and designed by the late Skip Gardener. The county purchased the golf course property in 2010.

The county used a portion of the property for storage of spoils/materials from the Nanticoke River dredging.  The property also features walking trails as the county-owned Woodland Park.

“When we were doing the inventory of the site, talking to the community, the previous owners had moved a one-room schoolhouse to the site,” said Mr. Parsons.

Under the agreement approved by county council, the county will lease the one-room structure for $1 a year. Volunteers will manage the former school house.

“I want to thank you, the Sussex County council for partnering with the Woodland School House Association to complete it. We have completed phase one of the restoration and preservation of the schoolhouse,” said Ms. Tate-Steinbiss. “It is just a beginning but it is a beginning and we have saved another part of Delaware, especially in western Sussex County, which people have a tendency to forget that we are there.”

County councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, called the effort a “great testament of community involvement.”

“It is kind of exciting actually,” said Mr. Arlett. “Are you going to use it as the opportunity to teach today’s youth and the future youth of how we used to teach and what was taught? What was taught and how we taught back in the day versus where we are today?”

“Yes,” replied Ms. Tate-Steinbiss. “That is one of the main things, for the kids to come out and sit in the desks. We’ve been collecting books and things from that period. In the fourth-grade studies they study all of Delaware … and education is a component of that. They talk about it. They read about it. But they don’t really have a hands-on. That is what we plan to do.”

“I have been out there on occasion and visited,” said council president Michael Vincent, R-Seaford. “I think it is really quite impressive to see a group of volunteers feel passionate about something and get that involved. It’s a great thing. I think it’s something the county is glad to participate in. And also as a sidebar to that, I am told that while they were working out there almost every day somebody is walking those trails. That’s another good thing. Thank you all for what you have done and will continue to do.”

Councilman Samuel Wilson Jr., R-Georgetown, asked an old-school question. “You’re going to teach the three R’s?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” said Ms. Tate-Steinbiss.

The lease agreement is for a quarter-acre of the park, with an initial term of 10 years and two five-year renewals for the “expressed use of restoring the schoolhouse and use for education purposes.”

The schoolhouse and park will be the backdrop for the upcoming inaugural Nanticoke Heritage Festival, set for Saturday, Sept. 20 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The festival will feature numerous vendors, a car show, kids’ activities, Native American demonstrations, and a Civil War encampment. For more information on the event, visit

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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