Monday, December 1, 2008


The Buffalo News ran a nice story about the Hartland Schoolhouse in Sunday's paper. Here it is...

Restoring a unique history lesson

HARTLAND — The oldest cobblestone one-room schoolhouse in Niagara County — predating the Civil War — will be the site of the annual “Christmas at the Schoolhouse” celebration next Sunday. Owned by the Hartland Historical Society for nearly a decade, preservationists are working hard to restore the District 10 School to its original charm in time for the town’s bicentennial celebration in 2012, Hartland Town Historian Norm LaJoie recently told The Buffalo News. “Christmas in the Schoolhouse” is one of the main fundraisers the group uses each year to help defray the costs of restoring the District 10 School, built in 1845 at Seaman and Carmen roads. The hardy cobblestone building was used as a school for more than a century and, later, as a residence. It currently serves as the Historical Society’s headquarters. Festivities begin at 11 a. m. and run until 5 p. m., with a $7 ham dinner, raffles, a 50/50 split, door prizes and Christmas carols sung around a decorative, real tree, said Kathy Curry, who has served as society president for the past eight years. The society also will have a number of local historical record books on hand for people interested in researching the history of the town and its residents.

The Historical Society has completely restored the roof, added a new furnace, replaced windows and rebuilt a missing chimney. Much of that work fell to Melvin Nichols, a local carpenter and society member. Society members also hired an experienced mason, Charles Dietz of Lockport, and his son, Charlie, to replace exterior cobblestone walls that had been cut away for a picture window and door when the structure served as a residence.

State Sen. George Maziarz, RNewfane, has helped procure grants totaling $10,000, while Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston, added a $8,000 grant to help the society complete a great deal of work in the past nine years.

“But we still need the floor to be completely removed and replaced,” LaJoie said. “We need to go down to the dirt and rebuild the beams and then rebuild the floor. We’re looking at pine flooring, characteristic of what we’d see in old schoolhouses.”

Cobblestone buildings are terrifically sturdy with their 14-to 16- inch-thick stone walls, Curry pointed out. “The only thing that’ll take down a cobblestone building is a leak in the roof,” she said.

There are a total of nine cobblestone buildings still in existence in Hartland. All are private residences except for the schoolhouse.

In 1900, there were 18 school districts in town, located every few miles, as the children had to walk to school and back home, LaJoie said. The 37-by-27-foot District 10 School is on the state and national registers of historic places. It operated as a schoolhouse for pupils in kindergarten through grade eight from 1845 to 1947 and stood idle until 1953, when town schools in the area were centralized. The property and its contents were auctioned off and the school became a private residence. In the fall of 1998, the house was made available through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Historical Society became its new owner in March 1999.

In the old days, families of the children attending local schoolhouses helped finance, build and maintain them, so the more-affluent districts had cobblestone or brick schools and the less-affluent districts had what amounted to wooden shacks, LaJoie explained. The majority were built of wood. There was only one other cobblestone schoolhouse in the town, District 11 on Johnson Creek Road, but it was torn down after years of sitting idle.

In restoring the District 10 schoolhouse to circa 1845, LaJoie said the society must be diligent to keep everything accurate to the period. That includes not hanging a picture of Abraham Lincoln — who was often paired with George Washington in old schoolhouses — because he was not elected president until 16 years after the schoolhouse was built.

Society members are also hunting for “the side-by-side, two-seater desks [on one bench] and slate blackboards — these have been the two hardest things to find,” Curry said. “The only place I’ve seen these desks is on ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ I’ve even gone on eBay, but the two-seater desks I find are one seat in front of the other, not one wide enough for two to sit side-by-side.”

Historians know that District 10 used real slate blackboards. Curry said some of the more financially strapped districts had to use plain boards painted black instead of slate.

“I think the search is the interesting part,” Curry said. “We do have some books that were used in this school. People had them in their basements or attics.”

“And we find them at yard sales,” LaJoie said.

“I can’t wait to have the [former] school kids come in because the stories are what make the school come alive,” said LaJoie, who has interviewed a few people who attended the District 10 school.

LaJoie recorded this memory of a District 10 student from the 1930s: “Children playing, knocked the top off of the old pot belly stove, and the thing rolled down on the floor; then the stovepipes that ran the entire length of the building began to fall. There was dirt all over, clouds of soot rising in the air and hot coals all over the floor. Water from the drinking bucket was poured on the coals and then all was shoveled outside.”

Restoring a 163-year-old cobblestone building can be costly. Society members also run the popular “snack shack” at the Little League games from April until August at the Hartland Town Park, with proceeds going toward the restoration project.

The historical society meets in the schoolhouse at 7 p. m. on the second Monday of each month, with the option of moving the meetings to Hartland Town Hall in January, February and March if the weather is inclement. Anyone is welcome to attend a meeting and join the society, regardless of residency.