New Ashford Celebrates Restoration of Historic Schoolhouse
NEW ASHFORD, Mass. — It took a village to save the town's 1792 Schoolhouse.
Along with some elbow grease and thousands in donations.
The village came together on Saturday morning to celebrate the restoration of one of its oldest and most historic buildings, complete with a cadre of graduates who brought with them memories of a time before school buses and indoor plumbing, when discipline was a given.
"If not, we got a ruler on our hands," said Cecile Love, 101, who chuckled, "I got into lots of things I shouldn't have."
Love, the oldest living graduate of the little school, cut the ribbon to officially declare the project completed after a gathering in Town Hall across the street.
The one-room building played host to a school, a library and town hall at various times over 160 years. The first woman to legally vote in a presidential election after the passage of the 19th Amendment, Phoebe Jordan, cast her ballot in the little schoolhouse in 1920.
But when the "new" school, now the Town Hall, was opened in 1951, the old schoolhouse lay fallow for nearly 65 years.
"It was becoming an eyesore," said former Selectman Ken Flicker. "We were worried abut it getting burned, we were worried about the bell getting stolen."
Efforts to restore the building began in the early 1990s when brush and ivy were removed from the building but preservation work was spotty until 2008, when an article by Meghan Foley in the former North Adams Transcript led to an anonymous donation of $35,000.
"That got us started on the restoration, the foundation," said Chuck Marrone, chairman of the Historical Commission. "The schoolhouse was actually picked up, stabilized, moved over there to pour the concrete foundation, with a stone shelf so it looks authentic. ... that's what got us started on this restoration."
A year later, his mother's charitable trust made another large donation that allowed work to continue on the exterior.
"In the fall of 2014, after a few years of not having anything done, work was started on the interior reconstruction of the building," Marrone said. "In late summer of this year, we finished the interior work."
Past members of the Historical Commission were instrumental in getting that work done, he said, ticking off a long list that included former co-Chairs Lynn Steinhoff and Louise Palmer.
And there was Flicker, and Cindy and Ed Grosso, Laurie Trottier and Matt Kelly. Ryan Keiper of Pittsfield, who married into Holden family, drew up the plans, gratis; Jeff and Mike Holden did the carpentry and wide pine floors. The Nichols did the wiring, Ed Lacasse laid the cable, and neighbors Sue and Joe Nawazelski allowed extension cords to run from their house during the final work.
Stockbridge Library Association donated the limestone steps from its restoration project, and John Friend replaced the hand-sawn wood shingle roof for free.
"I'm just super glad that Chuck was able to step in and do what he did," said Steinhoff. "Without him, I don't think it would have gone as quickly and as well as it did. ... It's mind boggling.
"I just hope the people in this town will continue to maintain this building because of the history and the legacy."
Graduates and residents made their way up the stone steps, through the small airlock entry into the schoolhouse proper. The big safe used when the building doubled as Town Hall sits behind the teacher's oak desk. A second airlock in the back opens onto a bucolic view that once also featured the outhouse. The former students recalled hauling in logs for the heating stove and buckets of water.
Harley Phelps Jr. remembers sitting on the north side by the window.
"I was in the back and the wind came out of the north and I about froze to death," he said.
Jackie Trottier remembered her teacher, Mrs. Nicholas, and that there were only seven children, one in each grade.
Mary Jane Phelps Zimmerman, Harley's sister, recalled how mad she was in the second grade when her cousin David started in school.
"I was so offended because I was the top banana," she laughed. She'd moved from her family farm to live in England and around the world before settling in New York State. "For somebody from New Ashford to move like that ... it was quite a journey."
She'd traveled with her granddaughter Tessa to visit old friends and check out the original desks refurbished thanks to her $3,000 donation.
The schoolhouse is close to what it must have looked like in the 1940s, with electrical lighting but no heat. The chimney had to be taken down to move the building for foundation work.
Selectman Ken McInerney hopes the schoolhouse can be used as a historical and educational field trip for local schools and opened for special events.
For Love, Saturday was a special event that evoked memories from long ago.
"I graduated in 1928," she said. "We had a big graduation party at the church and it was full and we had a program ... and I was 13."
Tags: dedication, historic buildings, historic preservation,