Once commonplace, one-room schoolhouses have been dwindling in number for numerous decades. In 1919 there were approximately 190,000 such schools in operation; today the number is estimated to be less than 400 — and those are primarily found in sparsely populated western states. Though no longer serving as schools, a fair number of these structures remain having been re-purposed or simply abandoned.
Recently we were asked to look at such a structure to assess work needed for potential restoration. We found the building to be fascinating despite its present condition. Built in 1894 (and replacing an earlier sod structure built in 1880) it truly typifies the rural school houses of the nineteenth century — both in its original design and later modifications. The building served its community until the mid-1960’s when the area’s school districts were consolidated, a process which was repeated all across the nation. Let’s take a tour of a once-common architectural genre!
The schoolhouse sits alone upon a high and wind-swept plain. It has not seen paint in roughly 60 years.
One of two original front doors was infilled years ago at left. The remaining entry was enclosed c. 1920 to create both a covered entry and coat room. Many, but not all, schoolhouses were built with two entries; one for boys and one for girls. Inside, seating was typically segregated by sex as well: girls on one side of the room and boys on the other. This practice began to fade in the early twentieth century.
The north side of the building retains its original 2-over-2 windows though they have been covered with ill-fitting storm windows and boards. The chimney stack has collapsed and a rear addition, c. 1960, is even more weathered than the original structure.
The uninspiring rear elevation.
On the south side, a former window location was converted to a doorway, possibly when the rear extension was added. The other windows were shortened for some reason.
In the gable end it is possible to see a small rectangular shape where there is no clapboard siding. This is the location of a sign which was there originally. Now let’s take a peek inside…
Inside the vestibule a boarded-over transom window above the door is visible. The combination vestibule/coat closet was finished in beadboard. The five-panel door likely replaced a four-panel door.
In recent decades, the interior has been used for storage. Decades of wallpapers are in various stages of delamination revealing original and early interior finishes.
The back wall shows the doorway cut into the wall when the rear addition was built. A wall-supported chimney stack is visible at the center of the wall.
Serving as a de-facto guestbook, the chalkboards have accumulated the signatures of many visitors over the decades since the school closed — including a 1987 entry from a former teacher!
The growing collection of stored items has no doubt impacted the ability of many visitors to “sign in”.
The room’s wainscot is capped by a beefy cove molding below a 1×2 with slightly rounded edge.
The casing of the 1960 doorway was notched around the cut made into the wall and wainscot cap. The most recent layer of wallpaper has a pattern which is typically mid-century in style and of subtle Asian inspiration.
Through the doorway, a Dutch door of plywood leads to the basement stairwell of the addition. Two restrooms and a storage room are down the hall to the right.
Though the addition was built in 1960, the toilet appears to have styling from previous decades. The cold water faucet at the sink has a built-in bubbler — operated by pressing a lever — which served as a drinking fountain in lieu of the type found in more modern schools.
The basement stairs lead to a storm cellar.
Now the home of highly annoyed barn swallows, I did not stay to explore.
Back upstairs, I pause to look at the “chalk tray” beneath a chalkboard. It appears to be a cap molding of some sort nailed horizontally to the top of the wainscot cap. Very resourceful!
A final look at the layers of wallpaper still visible.
Making my way to the front of the room, the allure of the trap door in the ceiling was like the siren’s song…
Fortunately I brought a ladder. The roof is in surprisingly great shape! Built of 2×6, 2×4 and 1×4 lumber, each piece displayed rough-cut saw marks. Bracing creates the intriguing effect of a pentagonal tunnel. Without a doubt, this is the cleanest 128-year-old attic I’ve ever been in!
The “Exit” sign, no doubt a code requirement, likely dates to the period of the rear addition and is made of construction paper and thumbtacks.
A better look at the beadboard-clad vestibule on the way out.
The cap of the cornerboard is made of the same molding comprising the fascia’s rake molding. The top of the rake molding is spiked with nails which formerly secured wood shingles (long since eroded by the elements).
The window’s drip caps are elaborated with the same molding profile. Traces of white paint remain beneath the eaves.
I hope you enjoyed this brief tour! So…. what do you think? Is this worth saving or not?