Kansas Couple Saves 19th-Century Schoolhouse
By Tricia McCarter-Joseph | Online Only | Feb. 25, 2010
With the economy being what it is these days, $50 doesn't go far. But that's just what it cost a young couple in Caldwell, Kan., for an 1879 schoolhouse that they moved last week and are now restoring as a living museum.
Last September Mike and Valerie Brunhoeber purchased the schoolhouse, along with an outhouse and an outdoor water pump, from Caldwell Township, 60 miles south of Wichita. They moved the buildings about five miles to their property on Feb. 16. (The move cost $7,300.)
"We just felt sorry for it, sitting there," says Valerie Brunhoeber. "It's one of the last ones around. My husband has always wanted an old schoolhouse. It's kind of our dream come true."
At first the Brunhoebers planned to use the 900-square-foot building for storage, but after a little research unveiled a list of teachers' and students' names, they reconsidered. Now they hope to turn it into an events center that will be open to schoolchildren. "Our main goal is for schools to be able to come and see what the old school used to be," Brunhoeber says.
"We figured we might as well restore it to what it needs to be. It's better for everyone to benefit from it," Mike Brunhoeber says.
The one-room schoolhouse is one of roughly 2,000 remaining in the country. Established as Belleview District #68, the building was used as a school until 1956 and then as a polling place by the Caldwell Township until 1998, when it was abandoned.
William Sherman, a board member of the Country School Association of America, which offers grants to restore one and two-room schoolhouses, estimates that nationwide there are fewer than 200 publicly operated schoolhouses.
"Some are used as just storage sheds or garages," Sherman says. "It's the most popular way of readapting these buildings. Some are rehabilitated as museums, and some are converted into businesses."
So far the Brunhoebers have installed a new tin roof, refurbished the oak flooring, and begun peeling off centuries-old wallpaper. But there are still windows to repair, a bell tower to refit, and many other tasks that they hope will be finished by Thanksgiving. Since they still need about $7,000 to complete the project, the Brunhoebers have applied for a grant through the Country School Association of America.
"We just want to share this with everybody; it's a piece of history," Mike Brunhoeber says. "We want to try to give it back so people can gather and have the [school] kids come out and see what it was like 150 years ago."
For more information or to see the progress of the restoration, visit www.belleviewschoolhouse.org.
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