In 1994, the Charles County board of commissioners nearly destroyed Waldorf’s last remaining historic public building.
The Old Waldorf School, originally the Waldorf Elementary Consolidated School, was the first town elementary school. It combined several of the one- and two-room schoolhouses scattered throughout the area. In fact, it was the only public school in Waldorf until St. Charles and its schools were built in the late 1960s.
According to Sandi Middleton, President of Friends of Old Waldorf School, most of Waldorf’s early structures were torn down and very little is written about early Waldorf in local history books. The Dr. Samuel Mudd and his house always gets attention for its involvement in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. However, Middleton points out that Waldorf has more that is important to Charles County than just that house.
“Waldorf School represents how strong our County was in the 1930s. It could build brick and block school buildings for its students at the height of the depression,” Middleton told The Bay Net. “[Waldorf] is the commercial hub of the county, and its early entrepreneurs helped the county become the success it is today.”
The building stopped functioning as an elementary school in 1975 after the school board completed new elementary schools in the St. Charles area of Waldorf. The school housed community service programs until 1985. Then it sat vacant and neglected for 16 years.
|Above, Old Waldorf School in 1994, before FOWS’ renovations. Below, the building today.|
As the building fell into disrepair, county government had the windows and doors boarded up. Eventually the commissioners declared it an eyesore and sought to have it razed. The building sits on prime Highway 301 property near the perennially busy Route 228 intersection. Developers certainly wanted that land.
At that point, according to Middleton, a former Waldorf School student, a group of former students roused themselves to action. They had read, with dismay, about the school’s proposed fate and organized to save it.
The Friends of Old Waldorf School formed in 1994. FOWS secured both the historic status of the building and the right to take on, as their mission, the school’s preservation, renovation, and conversion into a “multi-service community center for current and future generations to use and enjoy”.
Through grants, the generous contribution of the Waldorf Jaycees and the fundraising efforts of the Friends, FOWS has renovated the building to a point that it has attracted two desirable tenants. Head Start began a pre-school program there in 2002; and The Ballet Arts Academy began teaching classical dance there in 2004.
During the renovation, however, contractors discovered mold and bacteria that the years of neglect and vandalism had allowed into the walls of the old school. That very expensive discovery ate up a lot of t