The Village School Building is a World War One era school and community building, and is one of the most historically significant buildings in North Alabama. The Building is the heart of the Nitrate Village One neighborhood, a Garden City development designed by Mann & MacNeille Architects in 1917.
The Village One development was created to house U.S. Army Ordnance officers, enlisted men and families, and skilled workers and scientists, who were working on and supervising the Nitrate Plant Number One. The development was part of the World War One effort, and the Plant utilized an experimental ammonium nitrate process needed for the production of high explosives. Prior to this effort, the United States did not have this production capability, and Sheffield, Alabama was chosen for its available railway, waterway access, and existing industrial infrastructure. In addition, it was a remote location, far away from the German enemy gunboats. Nitrate Plant One was the first ammonium nitrate plant in the United States.
Combined with Nitrate Plant Number Two and the Wilson Dam, Village One created the buildings and infrastructure spawning the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933. Without the 1917-1918 Ordnance development in Sheffield, Alabama and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, there would be no TVA.
Nitrate Village One became home to top TVA personnel with the School Building serving the TVA community. In 1949, TVA divested and auctioned off remaining permanent houses to private owners. The School/Community Building and common dedicated green spaces were deeded to the City of Sheffield.
Electrical and plumbing updates allowed it to serve as a public school until the 1990s, when it was closed because of city school consolidations. The School Building remains the last publicly accessible and publicly owned structure of U.S. Nitrate Village One.
All Village One structures are of the Craftsman bungalow style architecture, and were among the first in the country built using a standardized building method that has become the norm today. The method allowed over 100 structures to be completed in less than a year. Much of the School Building was prefabricated, and delivered to the site as a kit. Even the Spanish tile roof was pre-cut from a blueprint, while the clay was still wet.
The Building and surrounding neighborhood remain as a cohesive, shining example of a high level of quality construction and architecture. The Nitrate Village No. 1 Historic District was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
The Village School is owned by the City of Sheffield, with Building repairs and maintenance managed in partnership with the The Village School Foundation. VSF maintains an on-site office to facilitate the restoration.
Educational and community uses of the Village School Building include lectures and tours for civic organizations, students, adult learning organizations and other public educational groups. Events include providing detailed information on history, architecture, and education (as the Building was an active part of the Progressive School movement in the 1930s). VSF gives tours of the Building for visiting historians, architects, artists, tourists, and local residents. Continued restoration and repairs will allow for expansion of educational and community activities.