March 17, 2013

County’s last one-room school renovated

— PERRY (AP) — Early on a recent Wednesday morning, Ellie Loudermilk stood alone in the middle of a one-room schoolhouse. She grabbed some cleaning cloths and wiped the wooden desks as she prepared for that day’s crowd.

“So this was like the first day of school for me,” said Loudermilk, a former educator and president of the Perry Area Historical Society.

It’s been decades since the first day of classes has been held at Springhill School. Now, thanks to a community renovation project, the last one-room school in Houston County has reopened for educational events. After more than four years of work, officials cut the ribbon at the tiny, white building behind the Houston County Board of Education office.

“It’s the last one-room schoolhouse in Houston County, so we wanted to save it,” Loudermilk said. “This is to preserve Perry’s history.”

The building was constructed in 1905 north of Perry off U.S. 41. In 1915, the school was valued at $700. Back then, it had one teacher, who taught 28 students, according to a Houston County schools news release.

The school closed in 1925 and eventually was sold to a former student, whose family lived in the building until a church purchased it.

Marjorie Daniel remembers family gatherings in the former school building. Her husband’s family lived in the building, and she had forgotten how small it was, she said.

The renovation “means a lot to me. I remember many, many good times,” Daniel said. “I’m so glad they got it back to a school.”

It has been a long process, mainly due to funding. The $25,000 project was funded by community donations, but garnering that money initially was a tricky task. The project began when the economy tanked in 2008, and people were leery of making sizable donations, Loudermilk said.

The project has been “exciting, tiresome, frustrating, overwhelming, but overall satisfying,” Loudermilk said.

Soon, businesses, organizations and individuals stepped up. The money started rolling in, and the work began. The historical society partnered with the board of education, which donated land where the school would be relocated.

“It’s just a natural fit for us to be part of (the project). We’re proud to be part of it,” Superintendent Robin Hines said. “It’s about the history — the history of education and the history of education in Houston County.”

Officials wanted to move the building to the site of the former Perry Panther gym, which was a legendary building in its own right, Loudermilk said. So, workers transported the school to a spot behind the board of education office near downtown Perry. At its new site, the refurbished building will be used for educational purposes, such as field trips, class reunions, musical performances, award ceremonies and storytelling.

But the project was not finished until individuals and organizations made some donations. Paint and lumber was donated, as well as some items that completed the room.

A potbelly stove stands in a corner; a chalkboard attaches to the wall; wooden desks and a wooden podium stand near the front of the room; candlesticks hang near the ceiling; and photos of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln cling to the walls.

A group of Morningside Elementary School students clustered in a corner of the room, waiting for a cue from the teacher to play their instruments — just like on the first day of school.

“Even though it took four-and-a-half years to get to today, I never had a regret about saving this building,” Loudermilk said.