South Newfane Schoolhouse gets a facelift

Monday April 29, 2013

SOUTH NEWFANE -- The people of South Newfane woke up to a changed landscape on the morning of Aug. 29, 2011.

The previous day Tropical Storm Irene dumped more than 10 inches of rain on southern Vermont and by Monday morning the Rock River had raged through the village of South Newfane.

Homes that stood for decades were damaged, or destroyed. Tree lined stream banks were scoured, with giant boulders tossed like pebbles along the river's path. And green fields were littered with sand, dirt and rocks.

On the south end of the village, on a slight rise of earth, the South Newfane Schoolhouse stood as one of the few buildings spared in the area where the Rock River and Marlboro Branch meet.

Over the next few days the Schoolhouse would act as a meeting place for the people of South Newfane.

And ever since then the village has been committed to saving and improving the historic building.

"During Irene this became a gathering spot for everyone in South Newfane," said Dave Roberts, who lives across the street and whose property was affected by the flood. "We felt like this was something that was preserved and after Irene we decided we wanted to do more to save it."

On Saturday a volunteer work crew met to rip up the floor in the approximately 800-square-foot building and in the next few weeks a new floor will be installed.

This follows a recent fundraising effort to replace the heating system in the school.

The South Newfane Community Association has owned the schoolhouse since 1953 when the town of Newfane sold it to the association for $1.

Through the years the building was used on and off for community events, but in the past few years leading up to Irene, Roberts says, it only really saw very infrequent use.

"Irene was a big turning point for the village, and for the building," said Roberts. "After the storm we all knew each other better and we decided we wanted to build on that."

In the days following the storm, just as it happened across the state, neighbors helped neighbors and Roberts said people got to know area residents who would offer only a polite wave before Irene hit.

As the cleanup continued and the people of South Newfane tried to get back to some kind of normalcy, Roberts says there was renewed interest in saving the schoolhouse.

On Saturday the entire floor and subfloor was removed and all of the beams will be taken out because there is some rotting there.

Rich Gillis, a blacksmith who lives in Newfane, takes part in the annual Rock River Artists' tour which uses the schoolhouse as a gallery and central point for the tour.

He was there Saturday with his tools to help rip up the floor.

Gillis is also a musician and he got a band together this winter for a concert at the schoolhouse which helped raise more than $1,000.

"It was great to see this place rocking and full of people," he said while taking a break from the work Saturday. "It made us realize that we don't have to go all the way into Brattleboro to have fun. We have this here. This is our own community space."

The fundraising for the floor started soon after the waters of Tropical Storm Irene receded. There have been fundraising concerts in the schoolhouse, private loans given and grants received.

They still have a few thousand dollars left to raise but Roberts said some of the members provided loans to get the project going and they are going to continue raising money.

After the approximately $16,000 job is done the schoolhouse will have a new, more secure floor, and the schoolhouse will be strengthened to serve the community for decades to come.

"I would never want to say that Irene did anything good for this community," Roberts said. "But we are all closer because of it. Irene helped us realize what we have."

For more information on the South Newfane Schoolhouse, or to donate money to the cause, go to NewfaneBulletin on Facebook.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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