Historic South School ready for grand opening

South-School-FIA little gem of a one-room schoolhouse is ready to be presented to the town:
The Amity and Woodbridge Historical Society, the South School Restoration Committee, and the town invite the public to view the lovingly restored building on Johnson Road on Sunday, June 2, for the official opening and open house.
Opening ceremonies will commence at noon, and the open house will run until 2 pm.

Here is the history of this building and the people who restored it over the years, as provided by Lisa Flaherty:

The story begins about 17 years ago, when two town organizations got together to restore an old schoolhouse.
It was in 1995 when the late Nancy Scully, then chairperson of the Commission on the Use of Publicly Owned Property (CUPOP) contacted Woodbridge Historical Society President Don Menzies and asked if “we should try and save the last remaining one-room school still in Town ownership, so it can become an asset to the townspeople again?”  Scully was referring to the former Knights of Columbus Hall, on Johnson Rd., built originally in 1877 as one of the town’s District Schools.
Menzies and Scully joined forces, but had no idea how long it might take.
“We were given the blessing of the Board of Selectmen,” Menzies recalls, “But it came with a caveat. No public funds would be available for the restoration. All funding had to come through donations.”
So the ad hoc South School Restoration Committee was formed with Scully, Menzies, Chris Dickerson, Duncan Milne and Rich Ridinger.
Together they began the process of fund-raising and removing much of the non-original architectural features.  Menzies recalls that they all worked on the building as time and money would allow, but that it wasn’t until State Senator Joe Crisco came forward with funding from the state that they could start the project in earnest.
“The money Senator Joe provided was the shot in the arm we needed. It validated the project. We were off and running”, Menzies said.
Many individuals and businesses contributed time and money along the way, but it was clear that the group needed someone with construction/restoration experience to start guiding the process along.
Menzies remembers getting a phone call from one of the Historical Society directors saying she had just given a tour of the Darling House to a Woodbridge resident who expressed great interest in the schoolhouse project. That resident was contractor Jim Urbano, and since then, Jim has been the experienced, guiding hand in the restoration.
Through the years Chris Dickerson and the Amity High School Women’s Cross Country Team have painted the exterior twice. The Dillaway family down the street has provided refreshments at the on-site work days. There was a second infusion of funds from the state, thanks to Senator Joe and Rep. Themis Klarides.
The Scully family made a generous contribution in memory of their Mom, Nancy (Susannah Keith Scully).
Public Works has assisted in many clean ups after work days. It has been a real grassroots effort.
Thanks to the Historical Society having in their archives the original ink drawings from 1877 of the front façade and interior of the schoolhouse, accurate reproductions of missing details have been fabricated.
Urbano had a paint history analysis performed so that original interior colors could be reproduced. There have been dozens of old school desks donated, as well as other items appropriate for a school of the period.  The original South School bell was found in one of the barns at the Darling House, donated years ago by George Knowlton, who was fire chief back in the day when the South School served as the first firehouse in town. George had saved the bell, and entrusted it to the Historical Society.
Admittedly, there was a period of several years where not much happened.
“We all had other things going on that turned our attentions away from the project for a few years,” Menzies said. “Then along came lifelong resident Rich Jeynes who expressed great interest in seeing the project completed. Rich installed the beautiful split rail fence. He maintains the grounds, keeping it looking nice for the neighbors and passers-by.”
Jeynes also installed a stone marker in the schoolyard, and a plaque on the wall inside, commemorating all who were involved with early education in town, especially the teachers.
So yes, it has taken a long time. But staying the course as prescribed by the Selectmen all those years ago, the project has been completed without the direct use of any taxpayer dollars.
Now, the South School Restoration Committee, The town, and the Amity and Woodbridge Historical Society invite the public to view the finished product on Sunday, June 2, for the official opening and open house from 12 to 2 p.m.
The Historical Society will serve light refreshments. Parking  is along Johnson Road or Manville Road.
The rain date will be the following Sunday, June 9.
As a fully restored one-room schoolhouse, South School will be utilized by Beecher Road School as an educational tool to teach local history, much the same way the teachers in Bethany use the old Center School.
A teacher can take their class there to reenact a lesson or a whole day’s activities.
So mark your calendar and save the date. Stop in and see how Woodbridge did the three R’s over one hundred years ago. (That would be: Readin’,  Ritin’, and ‘Rithmatic, of course!).

About author
The Amity Observer has been covering the news of Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge since 1995.

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  • I covered this story from the very beginning when I was with the Observer.
    I can’t wait to see how it looks inside, as I remember what it was like in 1995.
    Congratulations on the completion of this great project. I hope everyone shows up.

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