OXFORD – The one-room schoolhouse is a historic icon in American history. Generations of students learned the “three Rs” in the poorly heated and sometimes crudely built schools that were a mainstay of villages and outlying neighborhoods. In 1900, the state had about 4,000 schools where peers aged five to 18 mingle under the tutelage of a schoolmaster or schoolmistress, according to the New England Historical Society.
But by the middle of the 20th century, the public school model had shifted to multi-room central schools segmented into primary, primary, and secondary schools. As one-room schools began to close to instruction, buildings often fell into disrepair, were passed on to local farmers, dismantled, or left vacant. Some were eventually renovated into community clubs, museums and private residences.
A few remain as abandoned relics, and one of these stands on the corner of Route 26 and Rabbit Valley Road in Oxford, overgrown with brush and mature trees and vulnerable to the elements. Now the Oxford Historical Society is in a race to save the structure, known as Pigeon Hill Schoolhouse, from demolition, relocate it and use it as a living history museum on the grounds of its headquarters at the Kay House on Pleasant Street.
Pigeon Hill School was built in 1867 and was attended by many Oxford children until it closed in 1940. It stands on land owned and operated by three generations of the Thurlow family. Evan Thurlow, a former pupil of the school who died in 2018 aged 93, always wanted the school to be donated to the historical society eventually.
The property, including the old farmhouse across the road, is under contract to sell and Thurlow’s family have contacted the historical society to make their wish come true. Buyers of the property are supportive of the plan but expect the school to be moved as soon as possible.
A tight schedule isn’t the only obstacle to saving Pigeon Hill School. The Kay House Museum is the headquarters of the Oxford Historical Society, but is owned by the City of Oxford. When OHS President Patricia Larrivee first approached elected officials to accept the gift, it raised several questions about whether the city was required or even permitted to accept a gift to the historical society, and whether this required a town meeting to be held for voters to authorize it.
After reviewing the deeds, covenants under which the Kay House operates and consulting with the city attorney, it was determined that the transfer would not require voter approval, but the elected officials still had questions and concerns. on how OHS would manage the project. OHS’ plan gained traction when the board voted 3-2 in favor of moving forward at its July 7 meeting.
With the possibility of finally taking possession of the school, OHS has a small window of time to raise funds and relocate it. Without an action plan, some elected officials feared setting up a dilapidated building on the grounds of the Kay House, in the middle of the village and next to Oxford Primary School.
Reached by telephone for a comment, Sharon Jackson clarified her position.
“I don’t support the city accepting the gift,” she said, referring to confusion over whether the school would become city property, or an artifact owned by the historical society and located in permanently at the Kay House – which is owned by the city. . “I don’t agree with the location, it’s in sight either from the road or from the primary school, not knowing how long it will take to fix.”
Jackson added that while the OHS has pledged to raise funds and apply for grants to restore the building, no action has yet been taken. His concern is the possibility of Oxford becoming responsible for a public horror. She says that in its current state the building has no value and that she wants to see a plan before supporting the project.
Larrivee acknowledges that it’s about putting the cart before the horse, but counters that the organization needs to know the move is doable for all parties before committing resources to pursue it.
“We have a donor who has indicated that he will help fund his trip,” Larrivee told elected officials at their July 1 meeting and reiterated to the Democratic announcer. She said she was working with Copp & Sons Building Movers of Cumberland to determine the scope of the move and the cost.
Larrivee said SST is also open to different ways to move him. The most obvious answer is to move it by trailer, either as a whole or by separating the roof from the structure. But a second possibility is to dismantle the structure, map and diagram the structural components, and re-erect the school on a prepared pad or foundation at the Kay House. This scenario would eliminate the need to let it sit out in the open in its disheveled form and more methodically figure out how best to rebuild and restore it back to being usable and safe again.
She has also registered OHS with the 1772 Foundation and is seeking grants from other historic preservation organizations such as Maine Preservation and the Davis Foundation.
The Oxford Historical Society is partnering with the city’s Historic Preservation Committee, a group formed last year with the aim of identifying and supporting the preservation of buildings of historic value.
Members of the Historic Preservation Committee include Larrivee, Director of Recreation Patty Hesse, Henry Jack, Samantha Hewey, Heather Langelier and Kathleen Dillingham.
Larrivee’s vision of the project is to establish an interactive and living history display that preserves Oxford’s rural education heritage. The school would be a destination for visitors, a benefit for members of the historical society and, she hopes, would become available for Oxford Elementary School’s outdoor education program.
Some of the Pigeon Hill Schoolhouse furniture is already part of the OHS permanent collection and would be moved. The school would also house a range of society artifacts in rotating themed exhibits.
“We want to place this school on Maine’s historic register and see it protected as a valuable resource,” Larrivee told elected officials at their June 16 meeting.
Anyone wishing to support the preservation of Oxford’s last one-room schoolhouse should contact Larrivee at [email protected]