PORT SALERNO, Fla. - Small in stature, it loomed large with those who once walked through its doors. The former Salerno Colored School sits across from the modern Murray Middle School in Port Salerno.
"The school was excellent. It was an experience we looked forward to," said Helen Quintana, a former student who attended in the 1950s before the "Brown versus Board of Education" Supreme Court ruling.
"We played outside until Miss Costella came and rang the school bell," said Quintana.
Built around 1930, the New Monrovia One-Room Schoolhouse was one of the first to educate black children.
"It's a point of pride for the community, and it would have been a tragedy to lose it," said Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard, who found funding to help save the building.
The hurricanes that the region in 2004 crippled the structure.
Martin County's General Services Director Harold Markey said two architectural firms recommended tearing it down.
"But I don't think either one of those groups truly understood the historical nature of the building and what really happened here through the years," said Markey.
Meeting students like Quintana got Markey to push for its renovation.
"Of all the hundreds of millions of dollars of jobs and projects that I've worked on over my 40 plus years, this is probably the one I gain the most pride from. After it was done, the reward was in their faces," said Markey.
Markey says they tried to preserve the original look as best they could.
"So even though we found a lot of things rotted or damaged, we found ourselves cutting, piecing, replacing the rotting pieces and saving some of the older pieces," added Markey.
When you look at the front of the building, it looks as it did from original pictures. Chalkboards were found, as was a potbelly stove.
The desks were built by carpentry students at South Fork High School.
The period details come all the way down to the floor. A step up to the teachers desk worked as a stage. When students were called on in class, students had to step up and recite their lessons.
Even for the shy and the withdrawn, it was a confidence builder,"said Quintana.
"We came out of this building prepared and educated. We were ready to compete with anyone we had to," added Quintana.
Martin County Television is producing a 30-minute documentary on the school. The plan is to show that video to students here to share this important piece of history.