Former rural school re-opens as museum

The renovated Smith Hollow School sits at its new home on Commercial Street in Dayton. The schoolhouse closed to students in 1933.

The renovated Smith Hollow School sits at its new home on Commercial Street in Dayton. The schoolhouse closed to students in 1933. Photo by Rachel Alexander.

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DAYTON — After closing its doors to students in 1933, Dayton’s Smith Hollow School is set to open as a museum this weekend.

The one-room schoolhouse once served students in first through eighth grade in rural Columbia County, before becoming a community meeting center and eventually falling into disrepair.

But after seven years of work by the Blue Mountain Heritage Society, the building has been moved into town, renovated and furnished with items from one-room schoolhouses around the county. It will now serve as a museum showcasing the history of education in the county, as well as a meeting place for the society and other community groups.

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Blue Mountain Heritage Society President Elizabeth Thorn stands in front of the blackboard at the renovated Smith Hollow School.

Christmas Kick-Off in Dayton

Other Christmas Kick-Off events in Dayton include mule rides, photos with Santa, lighted home tours and a Friday night fireworks show at 7 p.m. For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit historicdayton.com/christmas-kickoff-3/ or contact the Dayton Chamber at 382-4825.

Smith Hollow School’s dedication will take place during Dayton’s Christmas Kick-Off celebration on Friday at 2 p.m., and the building will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The dedication program is modeled after a school day and features a flag salute, piano music and a recitation, as well as recognition of the volunteers who made the project possible.

“It’s really exciting to see it come together like this,” said Elizabeth Thorn, the heritage society’s president and manager of the restoration.

Since she began working on the project in 2006, Thorn has been immersed in the history of the county’s schoolhouses. Smith Hollow was the remaining unaltered county schoolhouse, but at one time, 56 rural schools dotted the county.

“What impressed me the most was how early the settlers in Columbia County established schools and how dedicated they were to them,” said Thorn. “(Eight to 12) families would get together and hire a teacher, set aside land and build a school.”

After it was moved in late 2010, Smith Hollow School was restored with a new roof, reconstructed cupola and up-to-code electrical wiring. The schoolhouse’s addition was too damaged to be moved, so it was rebuilt using original windows and replica trim.

The main room will be set us as it was during the school’s heyday, based on a 1932 inventory of the school’s property that Thorn found in the Dayton School District’s records. The addition will function as a rotating exhibit showcasing a portion of the region’s history.

The project took over 3,000 hours of volunteer work, with significant help from Ginny Butler, who managed construction, and Anne Strod, the grant administrator.

In her conversations with Columbia County residents who attended rural schools, Thorn said she was most struck by the appreciation they had for their education.

“Unanimously, the people I interviewed who went to country schools said they got a good education,” she said. “They enjoyed it and took pride in their learning.”

Following its dedication, Smith Hollow School will be open to the public on Saturday, Nov. 30 from 1-4 p.m., and after that by appointment. In March, the school will open for regular hours from 1-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

Comments

jennybuggs 10 months ago

Congrats on the restoration and all of your hard work!

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