Godwin School’s national historic marker to be unveiled

One century ago, children walked several miles on dirt roads to the one-room schoolhouse in western Millsboro. Now, the students are long gone, but the picturesque Godwin School on Route 20 is joining the respected ranks of the National Register of Historic Places.

The public is being invited to a plaque dedication and open house at the historic schoolhouse on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Speakers and the dedication begin at 10 a.m. Afterward, the public can tour the school and grounds until 2 p.m. Hungry visitors can buy hotdogs, potato chips, soda, baked goods and possibly fried chicken.

In its finished, restored form, the Godwin School attracted a huge turnout at its first open house last autumn.

“We had people last year from Maryland, all over Sussex County,” said Margaret Mitchell, president of the Millsboro Historical Society. “It’s a beautiful school, and they just wanted to see it and walk through… It is a pretty little school inside. Somebody said that we look like ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”

The historical society was created just to restore the idyllic green-and-white schoolhouse.

“We started this project it in 1988, just from the bare minimum. We had no money. None,” Mitchell said. “But to have this point that we’ve reached on the national historic register — you don’t even know how that made us feel. It was a long time coming. It was a journey. But we made it, and we’re done!”

The Godwin School, originally known as School District #190, opened around 1897 to accommodate the area’s growing student population. Local store owner Jacob Reese Godwin provided the land, and the locals collected money through a subscription. Godwin School only served white boys and girls in grades 1 to 8 who lived around Ingram Pond and Shortly.

“So many people in the community had to walk to school every day, including my mother and her six brothers,” Mitchell said.

After entering the vestibule (which the Historical Society re-added to the building), boys and girls parted and entered the classroom through two separate doorways, then sat on opposite sides of the room in wooden desks. Lunches were carried in old tin pails, and a single woodstove warmed everyone in winter.

At the time, many children did not continue school beyond eighth grade. Godwin closed at the end of the 1935-1936 school year, unable to compete with the larger Millsboro School District #23. The schoolhouse and land reverted back to the descendants of Jacob R. Godwin.

“And after the school was closed in 1936, they made it into a corncrib,” Mitchell had previously said.

Fast-forward 50 years, and the historical society began fundraising, dollar by dollar, to renovate the entire building. To date, they have installed a new brick foundation, new vestibule, flooring, weatherboarding, roof, outhouse, desks and landscaping, while following strict historic preservation guidelines.

“I just want to thank the public that has supported us,” Mitchell said of the Sussex County Council, Delaware’s State Historic Preservation Office, historian Richard “Dick” Carter and countless others. “It’s very, very humbling to have them as supporters.”

The honor is also a testament to the volunteers who gave their time, serving on the board and in other capacities.

In 1999, the Delaware State Archives installed a historical marker on the site. On July 16, 2018, the Godwin School joined the National Register, which includes more than 90,000 sites — including roughly a dozen Millsboro-regional sites, old farmhouses, churches and schools, special to the Nanticoke Indian community and the white settlers.

The school is located at 23235 Godwin School Road, and is typically open by appointment only.


By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter