Hosanna School Museum in Darlington, the first of three Freedmen’s Bureau schoolhouses in Harford County that celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2017, has acquired the historic McComas Institute and Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Joppa.
In addition, Hosanna School Museum received a $100,000 grant from the Maryland Historical Trust for restoration of McComas Institute and a $5,000 grant from Preservation Maryland for research about the founding of Hosanna School and McComas Institute, the first teachers and the community responsible for building the institutions.
McComas Institute and Mount Zion United Methodist Church were purchased by the board of the Hosanna School Museum (officially known as Hosanna Community House, Incorporated) at a tax sale. Without the intervention of the Hosanna board, these two historic properties in Harford County may not have been saved for preservation.
McComas Institute, built in 1867 and located on Singer Road in Joppa, was one of the first three Freedmen’s Bureau schoolhouses in Harford County. It was a school until 1939, when it was closed and used by the Mount Zion community for church and community events. McComas Institute was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. It retains its wooden board ceiling and plasterboard walls with blackboards but is in need of rehabilitation, particularly on the exterior.
Little Gunpowder Improvement Association (LGIA) member Gloria Moon alerted the Hosanna board about the condition of McComas Institute and the tax sale. Subsequently, LGIA donated $1,000 toward its rehabilitation along with a $1,000 contribution from members of the Joppa community (Bradley, Howard and Johnson families).
Jay Young of Brown, Brown and Young provided pro bono legal assistance to Hosanna School Museum in acquiring McComas Institute (with the adjacent cemetery) and the neighboring Mount Zion Church. Bernice Cottman, a former board member of the organization that once owned McComas Institute, and her sister, Joanne Holley, shared important historical information about the school with the Hosanna board.
Mount Zion United Methodist Church, built in 1865, is adjacent to McComas Institute. Founding pastor Rev. Peter Bishop and the trustees of Mount Zion partnered with George M. McComas, a Harford County abolitionist, and the Freedmen’s Bureau to build McComas Institute. George and Mary Ann Johnson provided the land, while the congregation of Mount Zion provided the labor for the construction of McComas Institute and held the initial title to the school. Church members comprised a significant portion of the school’s board until it closed in 1939.
Mount Zion was part of the Gunpowder Circuit of the all black Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, founded in 1864, which established and maintained a black governing board and black preachers and pastors.
The surviving sister church, New Beginnings Fellowship, located in Jarrettsville, and its pastor, Rev. Earnest Gayles, and congregants have been supportive of Hosanna acquiring Mount Zion.
“It is vital that the struggle endured by people of color following the Civil War remains an essential part of Harford County’s history. Hosanna has to be in the forefront to ensure that this history of how people who had nothing, for the most part, valued an education. In addition, they understood that it was important to have a spiritual component in their community,” said Jim Thornton, treasurer and special projects manager of Hosanna School Museum.
“These two buildings–McComas Institute and Mount Zion–represent a part of who we are today. We must find ways to increase the top of mind awareness of these stories,” Thornton explained. “Hopefully, this awareness will appeal to donors who share a commitment to preserve and share this history.”
In addition to acquiring McComas Institute and Mount Zion United Methodist Church, Hosanna School Museum received a $100,000 grant from the Maryland Historical Trust. The grant, awarded through the trust’s African American Heritage Preservation Program, will be used for restoration, capital improvements and a permanent interpretive exhibition for McComas Institute.
Preservation Maryland’s $5,000 grant to Hosanna School Museum will be used to research groundbreaking information about teachers, community members and their roles in establishing schools for African Americans before and during the establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau in the Reconstruction period. The information will be included in publications and exhibitions at Hosanna School Museum and McComas Institute.
“We are so grateful to the Maryland Historical Trust, Preservation Maryland and our local community for their support of our preservation efforts,” said Iris Leigh Barnes, executive director of Hosanna School Museum. “Our goal is to collect, preserve and interpret the history of Harford County through the lens of African Americans, and we invite individuals and other organizations to assist us with donations to help make that possible. Every donation makes a difference and is equally appreciated. We also encourage descendants of students and teachers to come forth to add their families’ stories to our exhibitions.”
Donations may be mailed to P.O. Box 305, Darlington, Md. 21034. More information may be found at hosannaschoolmuseum.org.