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161-year-old school back to educating

Open house planned for Sunday

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POSTED: October 11, 2013 8:58 a.m.
Photo by Della Martin/

Members of the Dorchester Village Civic Center’s board of directors stand on the porch of the restored school.

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Another part of local history has been preserved by the Dorchester Village Civic Center’s board of directors.
The board moved a one-room schoolhouse built in 1852 from its original site near the old Dorchester Presbyterian Church to the civic center. An open house for the schoolhouse will be held from 2-4 p.m. Sunday.
“The building was in such deplorable condition that we actually had to dismantle it and then rebuild it,” board secretary Julie Martin said. “It turned out to be beautiful, and we’re just thrilled with it.”
She said Midway construction contractor Daniel Fleming and his crew had to take the old school apart board by board. They found that a lot of the boards had dry-rotted or were damaged by termites.
“They had to scrounge around for lumber from other old structures to rebuild it,” Martin said. “The ceiling beams and that front wall there are the only part of the school completely made up of the original boards.”
She said once the school was reassembled on the DVCC’s 10-acre grounds, one of the board members said one thing was missing. The school would have to have had a bathroom, which in the mid-19th century would have been an outhouse. She said Fleming’s crew then built a two-door outhouse behind the school, with one side for girls and one for boys.
She laughed, explaining that Fleming only drew a large circle to illustrate each privy hole. She said he was afraid that if he cut the hole for each seat, someone might try to use it without a pit dug under it.
Martin said the old schoolhouse is of special significance to her because her mother, who was born in 1908, went to school there. Her mother told her learning at the old school was a joy. She said on Fridays, the teacher would allow each student to recite a poem or talk about something they’d learned in class during the week.
The one-room school was used until 1927, when a new school was built.
Martin smiled while she said her mother had a wonderful education and was a wealth of knowledge although she never went to college.
Board President Barbara Martin (no relation) said the teacher’s desk now sitting at the back of the classroom facing the door was made from scraps of lumber from the original building.
She said the pot-belly stove was not original to the building but does date to that era. She added there were no blackboards in the old school; each child wrote on small slate tablets.
Both ladies, along with Roz Marner, were cleaning the schoolhouse Tuesday in preparation for the open house. Barbara Martin pointed out that before the school could be re-assembled, the boards and the foundation had to be treated to prevent future termite damage.
She noted the lack of furniture in the room and said a church in Ludowici had offered to give them some 19th-century church pews. The intent was to attach fold-down desk tops to the back of these pews as many schools did in that era.
She noted, however, when their men went to the church to get the pews from an upstairs loft, the pews were too large to move. She said they were going to saw the pews into pieces in order to get them out of the loft.
Julie Martin said they are looking for other 19th-century children’s furniture, particularly chairs.
Marner said Julie and Barbara were “awesome” for their ability to restore old buildings. Julie said the DVCC acquired the old Dorchester Consolidated School in spring 2009 and had it renovated enough to hold a successful Christmas bazaar in December.
She said the DVCC will host what she called a “mega class reunion” for Bradwell Institute graduates while the school still was at Washington Avenue. That event is scheduled for 2-8 p.m.
Nov. 16.
Dorchester Village Civic Center is at 1804 Islands Highway in Midway, about 1 mile east of Tradeport East Business Park.

 

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