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Eatonville named one of America's most endangered historic places. Here’s why that’s good

A sign commemorates the Hungerford School.
Danielle Prieur
A sign commemorates the Hungerford School.

Historic Eatonville in Central Florida has been named one the most endangered historic places in America.

The announcement comes as the town is being considered for a statewide Black history museum.

Eatonville is the only Florida site on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's most endangered historic places in 2024.

The annual list highlights sites that are “at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.”

N.Y. Nathiri of the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community said this is a good thing, as it will put a spotlight on Eatonville and help attract further investment into the area.

“The reality is that unless there is an elevation, unless there is an educational process to get people at large, understanding what is actually happening nationwide, in terms of development and encroachment, there is that endangerment,” Nathiri said.

The Trust said it chose Eatonville as many historic buildings in Eatonville need, “investment, rehabilitation, and protection from development pressures.”

Melissa Jest with the Trust said this moment will help build the momentum behind the town’s preservation efforts.

“We have seen this annual list serve as a galvanizing force for historic preservation, with more than 350 sites being named and only a handful lost. As you all know, Eatonville is internationally and nationally significant and holds many important stories, touchstones for every one of us,” Jest said.

Orange County Schools has donated 10 acres from the former Hungerford School in Eatonville, the first school for Black children in Central Florida, back to the town, with the hopes that it will be used for the state’s Black History Museum.

A lawsuit over the former Hungerford site continues. The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community sued Orange County Schools over the land in 2023. A descendant of Robert Hungerford joined the suit.

Eatonville was one of the first self-governing all Black municipalities in the United States. It’s also the hometown of author Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote classics like, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

The full list of 11 sites on the Trust’s endangered list are:

  • Cindy Walker House, Mexia, Texas 
  • Eatonville, Florida 
  • Estate Whim Museum, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands 
  • Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, Athens, New York 
  • Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California 
  • Minute Man National Historical Park, Walden, and other nearby landmarks in Massachusetts 
  • New Salem Baptist Church, Tams, West Virginia 
  • Roosevelt High School, Gary, Indiana 
  • Sitka Tlingit Clan Houses, Sitka, Alaska 
  • Tangier American Legation, Tangier, Morocco 
  • Wilderness Battlefield, Orange County, Virginia 

Explore each of the sites virtually using this link.

Copyright 2024 Central Florida Public Media

Danielle Prieur