Thursday Doors – Charles Sumner School

Charles Sumner School
Charles Sumner School

Shortly after attending a couple of business meetings in Washington, D.C. last summer, I posted a selection of random DC doors. I hinted in that post that I had other doors, but that I needed to research their story. One of the buildings that caught my eye has a very interesting, albeit somewhat incomplete history. The Charles Sumner School represents a point in this country’s history when we began to turn in the right direction. It also represents the beginning of an era that, in retrospect, would continue too long.

An act of Congress in 1862 required the education of black children in Washington, D.C.

For those readers outside the United State, I should mention the District of Columbia is our nation’s capital, but it is not one of the 50 US states. The US Congress was granted exclusive jurisdiction over the District of Columbia in the US Constitution.

As for the school, it started life in in grand fashion. From Wikipedia:

The building was designed by prominent Washington architect Adolf Cluss, a task for which he would receive a design award at the 1873 Vienna Exposition.”

Congress, through federal agencies, maintained administrative control of the school for more than 10 years. In 1873, administrative control was turned over to local officials, but separate superintendents were appointed to administer schools that educated black and white children. This school educated elementary school children and eventually included high school students. At that time, the school was called Dunbar High School. The first high school students graduated in 1877.

Also in 1877, the school became the first teacher’s college for African Americans and was renamed Myrtilla Miner Normal School. The building also housed the offices for the Superintendent and Board of Trustees of the school system for black students.

All three sites that I checked about this building’s history skip forward about a hundred years and mention that by the 1980s, the building had fallen into disrepair. Although Washington, DC is home to many of our country’s most historic buildings, by the late 1900s the trend was turning to tear-down-and-replace, rather than restore buildings in poor condition.

Fortunately, Richard Hurlbut led a fundraising effort to raise $5 million to renovate the building. The building was then renamed the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives. The building also houses the District of Columbia Public School Archives. In addition, the building includes reading rooms, meeting spaces as well as the D.C. Women’s Hall of Fame and some exhibit space that is used by local artists.

As many of you know, one of my favorite sources of information is the National Registry of Historic Places. There are almost 600 sites in Washington, DC on the registry. The registry nomination form for the Sumner School doesn’t offer much more information than I had found elsewhere, but it does include several historic photos. Since these are public domain photos, I included them in a second gallery today.

Thursday Doors is a super fun weekly series administered by Superintendent Norm Frampton from his world headquarters in Canada. If you want to participate, all you need is a photo of a door, a drawing of a door, or a door you can tell a story about. Take the school bus up to Norm’s place. Check out his doors. Look for the blue frog thingie. Click that tadpole and off you go to a collection of doors from around the world. By the way, check back because Thursday Doors is open for contributions until noon Saturday.


  1. There’s an elegance and stately quality to the 1215 door, Dan. As you gave us the details for the building, Charles Sumner School, I noticed the triple arches surrounding the windows. The architect gave splendour to the windows which are extra nice in their stonework.
    I like how you mention our country was taking a turn for the better, when this was being built.
    The gate and clock tower are gorgeous, too. Thank you for taking the time to inform us! Hope this rolls you gently from a pleasant Thursday into the weekend! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Robin. I love the building and I was pleasantly surprised to learn of its history. I wonder what the story was for the 100 years in between, but I’m guessing it was just gradual decay. I can see why the building’s design won an award.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your excellently-researched Thursday Door posts always leave me feeling like such a dunce, Dan – I tend to post a pic of a door and pretty much say no more than ‘Here is a door’, whereas you always give the whole fascinating kit-and-caboodle history lesson to go with it! :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, thanks Ruth. But don’t feel bad. The research thing is just something I enjoy doing. I’m always worried that someone is saying “oh know, not another history lesson. Just show me the doors!”

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Mr. Hurlbut did an excellent job in refurbishing the school. It’s so lovely and I’m glad that he retained detail around the arched windows. Thanks for sharing this historic D.C. building, Dan. Where is it located? Anywhere near a metro stop?


    1. 17 M Sts, NW., Washington, DC

      From Union Station (I always use that as my starting point)

      Red Line to GLENMONT
      Use M STREET station exit

      Walk about 0.3 miles.

      I’m glad you like the building. He and the original architect both did a wonderful job

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved the way you progressed through the images. I had no idea it was so elegant and stately looking at the first two images. Then, Shazam! A clock tower, arch windows, and double staircase extravaganza!

    I would love to see the trees in front of the double staircase pared back so one could see how grand that entrance is. You found a jewel to share with interesting history. I’m glad that it was restored and put to good use. Richard Hurlbut was the right man to lead the charge toward keeping it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this, Deborah. I had to walk by this building to get to my meeting, and its beauty just struck me. Thank goodness (OK, thank my father’s training) that I’m always way early for things. I’m sure I look like the typical tourist, but it really is beautiful.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I can see why your favorite photo is, but mine would be the one from afar, with the clock tower :) It’s a gorgeous school. The window trim makes it more splendid than the average brick building. An admirable restoration, indeed.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A wonderful place. The pics from the 70’s were a good addition – nicely done Dan.
    I always appreciate the history surrounding these older buildings so you feel free to keep researching away ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When I see a saved treasure like this one, I can’t help but wonder about all the others that were forever lost. This one looks beautifully restored. I’m so glad that there seems to be much more interesting in preservation of the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. It is sad to lose buildings, but we can feel good about this one. I saw your comments on the photos, but I can’t reply from my phone. It’s a wordpress thing.


  8. Wow those windows are awesome, Dan. The stately appearance of this school reeks of history. Thank you for the pic of the flowers. Sigh. Man do I miss flowers! Every image wonderful so I thank you for the grand tour! Great post! 🌹

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m back. It’s Tuesday morning. Valentine’s Day mood in the air. I love these old style buildings and every Thursday I wait for some part of history that you share. To be honest, history was never my favorite subject in the school (probably teachers never taught it with enthusiasm), but now I am so deeply connected with history. I am glad you keep sharing these pictures and content that offer me a blast-from-the-past experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. History was never my favorite subject either. The teachers I had simply wanted us to remember what happened and when it happened. We never spend much time talking about why it happened or what the ramifications were.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I believe it is all about how to share history with others. Many of my friends don’t like history, but they love it when I share it with them. The same way I love you sharing some bits of American history. :) We can be good history teachers I believe.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.