Bringing the St. George Schoolhouse back to life (Aug. 14, 2008)

Aug. 14, 2008
By Molly Shaker
Observer staff

Nestled among weeds and wildflowers, the St. George Schoolhouse sits in quiet despair on a small, muddy clearing on the side of Vermont 2A.

The red and white schoolhouse’s paint is chipping, its roof caving. The building appears to be a relic of a schoolhouse that has not seen any life pass through its fading front door in ages.

Observer photo by Molly Shaker
Ina Isham (left) of Essex Junction and Lori Ring of St. George stand in front of the St. George Schoolhouse. Isham, a student at the school from 1943 to 1951, and Ring have been orchestrating the restoration of the building.

But last week an unconventional reunion — which brought together former students and others interested in restoring the building — proved the St. George Schoolhouse to be the keeper of more than a century’s worth of memories. The reunion also served as an opportunity to discuss plans for a resurrection that organizers hope to complete in two years.

Plans to transport the schoolhouse about a quarter of a mile to St. George’s town center are in the works, thanks to St. George resident Lori Ring, Essex Junction resident Ina Isham and other members of the St. George Historical Schoolhouse Restoration Society.

The society aims to establish a non-profit and raise money to relocate and repair the 154-year-old building. It wants to take ownership of the schoolhouse and use it as a base for a historical society. The property deed requires the building to be moved if it is to function as anything but a schoolhouse.

The schoolhouse itself is owned by the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, whose members include Champlain Valley Union High School and the Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, St. George and Williston school districts, said Bob Mason, chief operations officer at CSSU.

Ring, who received a $1,000 grant to research the history of the school a year ago, said restoring the building would cost an estimated $200,000.

“We need a historical society where we can keep as much stuff as we can find about our history,” said Isham, a student at the schoolhouse from 1943 to 1951. “St. George has such a history.”

A trip ‘down memory lane’

Built in 1852, the building opened as a schoolhouse in 1854 and operated as such until its last year of classes in 1964. In that time, the St. George Schoolhouse saw anywhere from seven to 30 students at a time, all residents of the small town.

Wanda Bean, a resident of Charlotte since 1968, was one of a handful of former students who attended the schoolhouse’s recent reunion.

Bean, 63, who attended the school from 1955 to 1957 before switching to Hinesburg Elementary School, referred to the gathering as a “walk down memory lane.”

She and other former students, many of whom used to participate in daily chores like cooking lunch and sweeping the floors, spent much of the afternoon cleaning their schoolhouse once again.

“I had not been in that school since I left it in 1958 and went to Hinesburg Elementary School,” she said. “I can remember where there was a wood stove and if we got to school early in the winter it would be chilly in there and we’d watch our teacher put the wood in the stove.”

Bean was reminded of how times have changed when she saw that a thermostat had replaced the stove.

A growing town population (today it has 852 residents, according to information provided by Ring) eventually forced the school to close. First, seventh and eighth graders were sent to Williston Elementary School or Hinesburg Elementary School.

By 1964 the one classroom school proved too small and expensive to continue serving the town’s students, and shut down altogether, Isham said. Students had a choice of attending Williston or Hinesburg schools.

But even after the schoolhouse operated as a schoolhouse no more, the building put to use for a few more decades. Previously painted white, the St. George Schoolhouse was eventually painted barn red and served as the site for several town meetings and gatherings for what is now known as the Rocky Ridge Community Women group.

Since the 1980s, however, the building has not been used at all, Ring said.

Ring, who was never a student at the schoolhouse, said her attraction to the building was so great that she began mowing its lawn a few years ago.

“You walk in here and everything is so old,” she said. “Everything is so untouched by time.”

Bean said she believes the teacher’s desk, which is now being used to dust off piles of musty schoolbooks found in a filing cabinet in the kitchen, is the same teacher’s desk that was used when she was student.

“There’s hardly a time when I don’t drive by that building and say to my husband that it’s such a shame that somebody can’t do something to save this old schoolhouse,” Bean said. “I think it’s absolutely wonderful that these local people are invested in saving this historic building.”

For more information contact Lori Ring at 428-3747.