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Assemblywoman secures $5,000 for one-room school house project

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MADRID - Although officials with the St. Lawrence Power and Equipment Museum had spent approximately $42,000 to restore a one-room school house, they still had about $9,000 in unpaid bills, according to museum Secretary Roger S. Austin.

But, at a dedication ceremony Saturday during the 24th annual Old Fashioned Harvest Days, the amount owed dropped significantly.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, was on hand for the dedication and, as Mr. Austin announced their financial situation, she stepped forward to let them know she had secured $5,000 toward their effort.

“My mother always told me, ‘don’t go somewhere without a gift,’” Mrs. Russell said, leaving Mr. Austin speechless with her announcement.

She thanked Mr. Austin and the museum board for “ensuring this school house is preserved for generations to come. The museum really stepped up and took this project on without funds, without knowing how it would do it.”

Mrs. Russell said the museum had a special meaning to her, since it was located in a district where she attended school.

“I grew up seeing that building almost every day. It is an historic treasure – a piece of our north country heritage worth preserving. I was very pleased to be able to support the effort of the Power and Equipment Museum to acquire it and move it to the museum grounds where it can be toured by the public with proper historical interpretation. It’s great that a piece of Jefferson County school history is smack dab right here in the middle of St. Lawrence County.”

The “No. 12 Schoolhouse” had originally been build around 1850 and located in the town of LeRay until its closing in 1915. Since then, the building on Route 11 had sat unused until it was donated to the St. Lawrence Power and Equipment Museum in 2010 by its owner, the Indian River Central School District.

Mr. Austin said that he and his wife, Carol, spend time every year in Georgia before returning to the north country for the summer. And as they’ve traveled along Route 11, the building has always been a subject of their attention.

“We would see that wonderful little school house, all closed up and we would think, that would look really great at the museum,” he said.

When Mrs. Russell was elected to the Assembly in 2009, he decided to pay her a visit to introduce himself and the mission of the St. Lawrence Power and Equipment Museum. After several months and while he and his wife were in George, Mr. Austin said he received a call from Mrs. Russell.

“She asked, ‘Are you still interested in the school house on Highway 11? It might be available,’” he recalled.

They acquired the building from the Indian River Central School District in 2010, but it remained at its original site until 2011.

Getting it to Madrid was an experience, according to Mr. Austin, who said the building was completely dismantled for the trip.

He said the ceiling had started to collapse, the floor was failing and growing fungus, and birds nested between the windows and the boards that covered them.

They placed a steel roof on top of the shingles and, three months later, the interior was dry. The roof was removed in 2011 and the walls were separated from the rotted sills.

“We found the building just didn’t want to come apart despite the ceiling coming down,” Mr. Austin said.

They were eventually able to get the building pulled apart and the side were stacked on a truck, transported to the museum and put in a big pile on the museum grounds, where they sat for three weeks. They got a crew together later that month and began the reassembly process. New pillars and floor were constructed, and the walls were stiffened and erected.

“We stood it up and it stood by itself with a little prop,” Mr. Austin said.

A new roof completed the work, and work on the windows began in 2012.

“We declared victory,” he said.

“You did a phenomenal job of putting it back together,” Indian River School District Board of Education President Frank J. Laverghetta said.

Since then, he said, they’ve been “slowly picking at the building,” trying to find out its origins and how it was originally put together.

Saturday’s dedication was attended by several former teachers and students of one-room schoolhouses. In the spirit of the day, several children and adults were dressed in 19th century clothing - boys in knicker sets and hats and girls in jumpers and bonnets.

The costumes had been created by Andrea Castle, Mary Jean Chester, Carolyn Sheppard and Sue Dean, according to Judith C. Liscum, author of “Stepping Back In Time - Tales From the Country Schools” and chair of “Friends of the Schoolhouse.” Also in costume, she had been invited to be the “school marm,” in charge of the group of students.

Ms. Liscum said plans call for the building to be put to good use. She said they plan to invite students from Madrid-Waddington Central School to visit in the fall, where they’ll be able to also dress in costume and take part in a specially designed history curriculum for a half-day. They also want to work with other schools to coordinate field trips beginning in the spring.

“The Friends group will put together some sort of a program. It will not be a wasted day. It will be a history lesson,” she said.

“The most important activity now is to make good use of the building,” Mr. Austin said.

Ms. Liscum said donations were always welcome, and she was stepping forward to donate future proceeds from her book now that the publisher had been paid in full.

“Whatever money I take in from selling the book will go to the school house,” she said.

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