This historic building, a stone’s throw from “malfunction junction” (the intersection of Route 9 and Coastal Highway at Five Points), was once a school in the heart of a vibrant African American community called Belltown. The Nassau School was one of more than 80 schools built specifically for African American children in the early 1920s and funded by Pierre DuPont. The school had no running water or electricity. Warmth was provided by a coal stove and the only light was from the windows and kerosene lamps.
The community dates back to the mid-1800s and was named “Belltown” for Jacob “Jigger” Bell, the free black man who owned the land on which it was built. African Americans established their own self-supporting town because racial segregation excluded them from living in white communities.
By the time the Nassau School was built, the surrounding area was mainly orchards (apples and peaches). Residents worked on the nearby farms or walked into Lewes to work. Many raised vegetables, chickens and pigs in their yards for their own use and to supplement their income. On Sundays, they worshipped together. Across Route 9 from the Nassau School is the church that served the Belltown community. The current church was built in 1946, but there has been a church there since 1873. A marker on the building documents its history.
There are still some houses that date back to the days when Belltown was a thriving community, but most descendants of the original families have moved or passed away. Still, the Nassau School is a reminder of the Belltown community.