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Washington Voices

Lessons in history

Sat., June 20, 2009

Restored Lone Fir Schoolhouse rests on auto lot property

The historic Lone Fir Schoolhouse once again rang with the sound of children learning last week after nearly four decades of vacancy and deterioration.

Jennifer Johnson, owner of Jennifer’s Greenacres Auto Sales, is responsible for the one-room building’s restoration. She acquired the schoolhouse when she bought the property at Sprague Avenue and Progress Road in 2007 and began fixing it up last year. A tarp covered the leaking roof, animals had set up residence and wood was rotting.

“I could not see it rot away,” Johnson said. “It was really crumbling.”

The schoolhouse was built in 1894 in the Saltese Meadows area. It was moved to its current location in late 1904 and was used for a kindergarten classroom for the Central Valley School District until the late 1960s or early 1970s. Similar buildings once dotted the Valley, but Lone Fir is the last of its kind.

Employee Steve Putnam devoted himself to the repair project and did all the carpentry work. He did research on one-room schoolhouses and found that they all had five windows facing east and one door facing north. “Someone had hacked in a (second) door and I converted it back to a window,” he said.

The window frames are original, but some broken glass had to be replaced with single-pane glass made to match the existing glass. The roof was replaced and the front door rebuilt. Old siding was ripped off, revealing the original cedar siding underneath. Now the freshly painted building shines in the sun.

Inside there is an entry room with original shelves and cabinets, plus reproduction coat hooks on the wall. A tiny washroom holds a basin and a pitcher of water. The outhouse isn’t a working model, but it’s the original that used to sit next to the schoolhouse. Johnson found it in a neighbor’s yard. The wood flooring is new, but it was roughened up to appear older.

Johnson scrounged antique student desks from all over. Since the schoolhouse originally served eight grades, some of the desks are smaller than others. Old-fashioned lamps hang on the wall and a wood stove bellies up to the south wall.

“I worked on this for probably six months,” Putnam said.

Johnson said she was happy to open up the school for two fourth-grade classes from Progress Elementary. A teacher contacted her to ask for a tour and Johnson offered to let them use it for two days. “She got so excited,” Johnson said. “To show it to everyone else is kind of fun.”

Some of the students dressed up in period clothes and they had a spelling bee, recited poems and held classes. In fourth-grade history, students learn about pioneer history, said teacher Rozanne Caruso. “They’ve been studying about one-room schoolhouses for two weeks,” she said. “They were so excited.”

The kids walked from Progress and packed their own lunches. “We made it as real as possible,” Caruso said. “They got to sit in the desks, boys on one side, girls on the other. We just had a real full day of activities that would have gone in a one-room schoolhouse.”

Caruso said she watched as the building was restored and said it is remarkably accurate. “Jennifer has really done her research,” she said. “It is so cool.”

Margaret Swennumson, who attended a one-room school in Montana, said the school looks very similar to her old one. “Look at the windows,” she said. “The windows are exactly like it. It’s a lot like it.”

Swennumson, 77, was at the school to talk to the students about what it was like to attend classes in one room. The Hay Creek School included her siblings, a cousin and a couple of neighbors in grades one through eight. “My first-grade teacher was my older sister,” she said.

She brought her old metal lunch pail with her initials scratched on top that she used while attending the school to show the students. But by the end of the day, she left it at Lone Fir to join several other old lunch pails and artifacts on display. Johnson has been searching for historical items to furnish the building with. “I have maybe $30,000 in the restoration, maybe $10,000 in all the stuff inside,” she said. “It’s pretty authentic.”

Johnson said she’s not sure what she will use the schoolhouse for other than occasional visits by school children. It sits on the back of her lot on a lawn surrounded by a white picket fence. “I just don’t even know what it’s going to do with itself,” she said.

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