The Franklin Street School’s new lease on life
October 10, 2022. Ninety-four years after Franklin Street School opened its doors to Cape May’s African American elementary students, county and city officials broke ground for the new library and community center that will be Franklin Street School’s second life. A building that represented a past that some would like to forget now represents what we can become.
In 1994 altercations between police and youth prompted 12 women, artists and community leaders, to seek a place where kids could meet and play. The artists dreamed of a cooperative space to create and teach. They saw Franklin Street School, standing vacant and neglected, as a potential community center where everyone could gather.
They are the Founding Mothers of the Center for Community Arts. Through interviews with former students, they gathered enough evidence to save the building and the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office recognized the school as a “contributing element of local significance” to New Jerseys African American History.
For the next 25 years, CCA and others raised money to fix the building. The roof and windows were repaired so that pigeons and gulls could no longer take shelter inside, leaving toxic deposits and remains that rendered the building dangerous to enter. The bricks in the exterior wall were repointed, and the interior was cleaned and stabilized.
Less than two years from now, those doors will open again to admit the citizens of Cape May and the county, of all ages and races. People will read and check out books. They will gather for art classes, club meetings, and games. A radio station, WCFA, will broadcast from the room where Founding Mother Emily Dempsey was taught by kindergarten teacher Cordelia Howard Bounds. Pictures and objects will display the history of the students who studied there, the stories of their families and people of the neighborhood, as well as the stories of libraries that came before.