The Spotsylvania Sunday School Union (SSSU) was formed in 1905 by 12 African American Baptist churches for the purpose of promoting education past the 7th grade for their children. Initially they helped the growth of the Fredericksburg Normal & Industrial School, also called the Mayfield School which was founded by Rev. Samuel A. Brown of Shiloh Old Site, a 1902 graduate of Virginia Normal & Collegiate Institute.
In 1909, a regular SSSU meeting, Lewis Terrell, Branch Fork Baptist Church Sunday School Superintendent, made a motion to use the community's money to build a school of their own. As a result, under the leadership of John J. Wright, the SSSU purchased 158-1/2 acres from D. F. and Cora V. Altenburg on January 3, 1910 for $475.50 cash. They then contracted with local master carpenter Alfred Fairchild to construct a school. Enough of the building was ready to use by the 1914-15 academic year. Mr. Wright, an 1893 graduate of Virginia Normal & Collegiate Institute, served as principal, and the ﬁrst two teachers were Lula Broadus and Sadie Coates.
On February 3, 1941, an accident of overloading wood in an upstairs tin stove caused a fire which severely burned the school and its outbuildings. Recognizing they could not rebuild without substantial financial assistance, on July 1, 1941, the SSSU deeded to the School Board the school buildings and 80 acres of land. The remaining acreage from the original 158-1/2 acre are still in the hands of the SSSU and comprise the present-day park and accompanying timberland.
The Spotsylvania School Board contracted with a local carpenter and employee of John J. Wright High School, Rev. Frank Thompson to construct a make-shift building that became known as the "Tar Paper School" in which students attended until 1952. Under the leadership of a new superintendent, C. Melvin Snow (appointed in 1945), and after many years of social and economic preparation, the State Board of Education approved a $575,000 loan from its Literary Fund in February, 1950, to build a new school for all county African American children to attend. October 16, 1950, ground was broken for the new school and in 1952, the ﬁrst classes were held therein.
The 1967-68 school year was the last for the John J. Wright Consolidated School. Full racial integration in the fall 1968 school year coupled with restructuring brought middle schools throughout the Commonwealth. The school's name was changed to and used as the John J. Wright Middle School. It remained so until 2006 when it closed for renovation. It reopened in 2009 as a facility for extended education and cultural programming and is now memorialized as the John J. Wright Educational & Cultural Center. It is the only school building in the county that bears the name of a Spotsylvania citizen.
(upper left) John J. Wright 1867-1931
(lower left) The school was constructed in sections between 1912-1922. Once complete, it had three ﬂoors including boarding facilities, classrooms, and a kitchen. August 5, 1940, the school's name was officially given: The John J. Wright High School
(upper center) Lewis Terrell (1858-1929)
(lower center) Left: The Spotsylvania Training School, c. 1931 / Right: Alfred Fairchild Master Carpenter
The African American Heritage Trail is supported in part by a Preserve America grant administered by the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. This product is based upon work assisted by a grant from the U. S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of the Interior.