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On the Steps of Tradition

Featured Photo from On the Steps of Tradition

The Class of 2018 at Crooms Academy returns to a famous front porch from the school’s rich history

On March 27, 2018, the Crooms Academy of Information Technology Class of 2018 gathered on the front steps of the former Sanford home of the school’s namesake, Professor Joseph N. Crooms. The students gathered to recreate a tradition started by Mr. Crooms when he became principal of the school in 1926. Each year during his tenure, Principal Crooms invited all the graduating seniors to his home on South Sanford Avenue for their official class portrait. Today, thanks to Crooms Academy’s new principal, Dr. Brandon Hanshaw, and the enthusiastic support of the home’s new owners, the tradition is alive and well once again.

Dr. Hanshaw may be new to the school’s top job, but his knowledge and admiration for Crooms Academy can be traced back to his childhood.
“As a kid, my mother took me to karate lessons across the street from Crooms Academy at the Westside Recreation Center in the mid-1980s,” says Dr. Hanshaw. “I started to learn about the historic tradition of the school from my instructors over 30 years ago.”

As he dove deeper into the history of Crooms Academy,  Dr. Hanshaw came across a Class of 1929 photograph taken on the doorstep of Professor Crooms’s house in Sanford. The house is still standing today and, thanks to a recent historically-sensitive restoration, it looks very much like it did nearly 100 years ago.

The 1920s-era Crooms home, located at 812 South Sanford Avenue, stands not only as a historical landmark representing Mr. Crooms and the remarkable impact he made as an educator and principal for children in Central Florida, but it also remains a critical part of history for the local African-American community, including the family of author Zora Neale Hurston. 

According to Francis Oliver, curator of the Goldsboro Museum, the home was built for Joseph Crooms and his wife by Zora Neale Hurston’s father and uncle. Joseph lived in the home while serving as a teacher and principal of the 7th Street Elementary School and Hopper Academy before becoming principal at what we know today as Crooms Academy. After the passing of Joseph and his wife, the home was occupied by Zora’s relative, Clifford Hurston, and his wife.

The house eventually sat vacant and untouched for a number of years before it was purchased by a local real estate investor and carefully restored to its 1920s charm. Current homeowners Rita and James Moore have been living in the historic house since October 2017 with their two children, Connor (9) and Bridgette (2). Although they’ve only lived in the house for a few months, Rita says it already feels like home.  
“I’ve always loved the idea of historic homes, and I find they are fairly rare in Florida,” says Rita, “so when we saw the home on Zillow, we were blown away. The woman who sold it to us put a lot of love into the renovation and it shows throughout the home.”

In addition to the home’s charm, Rita and James were drawn to the Sanford community. It wasn’t until the couple did their first walk-through that they learned about the house’s history.

“They had a large framed photo of Mr. Crooms out and, to be honest, I had no idea who he was,” Rita admits. “The realtor overheard me and explained in brief detail Joseph Crooms and his significance to Sanford. I was so excited. Not only would we be buying a historic home, but we would have immediate insight into its very significant history. I went home that night with an offer on the house and a determination to find out all I could about the Crooms family. It means so much to us to help carry on Mr. Crooms’s tradition of giving back to his community and hopefully do the Crooms family proud.”

For Dr. Hanshaw, the reimagined class photo is a priceless chance to honor the past and connect it with the future.

“The motto of Crooms Academy says it all: ‘Rich in Tradition, Pride, and Vision,’” says Dr. Hanshaw. “We will ensure the school continues to focus its vision on the spirit of innovation established by Professor Crooms so long ago while embracing the rich tradition of its past and the pride of its distinguished alumni.”

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