It has a new metal roof, but the plaster walls, blackboards and nearly all of the wooden floors and ceilings are original. The Dorchester Consolidated School has been preserved and now serves as the Dorchester Village Civic Center.
“We did whatever it took to get the building renovated,” said Julie Martin, secretary for the center’s board of directors. “Barbara (Martin) and I know how to squeeze a penny. But if we’d had to pay for the volunteer labor, the costs would have been so much more.”
The civic center is about two miles east of I-95 in Midway at 1804 Islands Highway. Even with labor costs at a minimum, she said $157,000 was still needed to restore the old schoolhouse.
Barbara Martin (no relation) serves as president of the seven-member board. She is also a former student of the old consolidated school. Both women conduct PowerPoint presentations for civic and church groups about the school, the brick school that preceded it and the original one-room schoolhouse about a mile away that was built 160 years ago.
“People are always amazed about the history of this area,” said Barbara Martin, herself a retired teacher and former chairwoman of the Liberty County Board of Education. “I grew up here, so I know a lot of history.”
Julie Martin said the one-room school house was built in 1852 when the area was first settled. Though run-down and surrounded by underbrush, the old school has been donated to the civic center. They’d like to dismantle it “board by board” and reassemble it on the civic center site, which includes 10 acres, she said.
“Everybody knows about the history of Sunbury, Riceboro and Midway, but nobody knows about the history of the area in between,” she said, referring to Dorchester Village. “The one-room school was used until 1927 when a brick school was built here. That school burned. Then this one was built in its place in 1938.”
She said the school was called consolidated because it served students from Dorchester Village, Sunbury, Colonels Island, Riceboro and Jackson Chapel. The 1938 school was used until 1951.
In 1958 the property was bought from the Liberty County Board of Education for $10 and used as a community center. Over the years, however, it fell into disrepair and was closed.
She said the Dorchester Village Civic Center, Inc. was reactivated in 2008 and restoration started the following year.
The 7,400-square foot building includes an auditorium, five classrooms, a kitchen and outdoor pavilion is now rented for family and civic events.
In addition to bookings for events like a play there Oct. 20, Barbara Martin said they also hold fund-raisers to maintain the building and projects like restoring the one-room schoolhouse.
To make a donation or reserve a banquet room at the Dorchester Village Civic Center, call 884-3342 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.