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The Hillsdale School, completed in 1871, was built by the formerly enslaved homesteaders of Barry's Farm (later known as Hillsdale). Prior to the Hillsdale School, there were private schools, including the Mount Zion School (later renamed the Howard School). This building was used until 1913, when it was condemned.

The Barry's Farm Project was established by the Freedman's Bureau in 1867 to make land available for purchase by African Americans who had come to Washington in great numbers before and during the Civil War (1861-1865). For each buyer the Bureau provided enough lumber for a small house. By the end of the first year, a community had begun, one that built a church and the one-room school on Mt. Zion Hill.

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