One-room Nicholas County school moved, restored, ready for visitors

The  original desks and  potbellied stove were  replaced intact at Hildreth School. The building held its last school session in 1941. It was used as a church until the 1960s.
The original desks and potbellied stove were replaced intact at Hildreth School. The building held its last school session in 1941. It was used as a church until the 1960s. Herald-Leader

CARLISLE — Gladys Shrout was part of a mission, and the mission was sitting about 13 miles from where Shrout and her partners needed it to be.

The chairwoman of Nicholas County Tourism, Shrout wanted to move the one-room Hildreth School from Abners Mill Road to a site next to the county school complex in Carlisle.

"It's a pure treasure to our community," Shrout said.

That way, families from Nicholas County elementary, middle and high schools could pass a real one-room schoolhouse every day. People could come from around the area to tour the building, which was featured in a 1985 PBS movie of Mark Twain's Huck Finn.

Fun fact: The school desks — with the initials of students from decades gone by carved in the wood — were removed for filming and replaced by benches, being too new for Huck Finn's 1840s time period.

The 600-square-foot white-weatherboard schoolhouse, built in 1895 and closed in 1941, has stayed in fairly good shape over the years, in part because it had a good roof to protect it from the elements, Shrout said.

The building was taken apart and reassembled by a group from the Nicholas County Amish community in July 2014 and later reassembled, painted and shined back into glory.

Shrout said she "cried like a little girl" when the volunteers took down the building, and cried again when it was rebuilt on the Nicholas County schools site.

The moving and restoration were accomplished entirely without government funds.

If you look carefully to the left of the school's front door, you can see that at one time someone with the initials J.P.C. loved E.R. and carved that sentiment into the weatherboard. Whether their love endured has been lost to the ages.

Although the windows of the schoolhouse are new, the sashes are original. The coal stove is also original. Insulation was nonexistent, so it got fairly brisk in there during the winter, and younger students would be seated closer to the coal stove. The school taught children in grades one through eight.

A surprisingly small metal lunch bucket once used by a student was donated. Books in the school are of the period the school was operated, but not original. The blackboard has been repainted; as late as 1984 it still held writing from the last days before the school closed.

The bell still rings as if summoning a group of early 20th-century children to haul it on in with their lunch buckets and coats. There are two coat closets in the back of the room but no restrooms or running water.

A bucket and ladle would have provided children with drinking water during the school day.

Dorsey Watkins, vice chair of Nicholas County tourism, restored the pendant light fixtures, which are old enough to be back in style again.

A 1984 Herald-Leader story made note of the building's history: After the school closed as the county schools began to consolidate, Hildreth teacher Louise Linville bought the building for $60 from the Nicholas County school board. The building later became Hildreth Church, also called Cedar Grove. The church closed in the 1960s, when the building was boarded up.

At one time, Nicholas County had 42 one-room schools, according to Rob Lane, a former educator who in 2013 opened his family's historic home as a fundraiser for the one-room schoolhouse project.

Louise Linville made sure that even the blackboard decorations were not erased. Later, the family of Arthur Linville, the son of Louise and a former student at Hildreth School, donated the school to the local tourism board, which had long wanted it.

In one of the scrapbooks meticulously maintained by Shrout, there is a 1941 picture of the last class at the old Hildreth School. Louise Linville was the teacher, and her son Arthur is the lad in the front row with a mischievous look.

Greg Reid, who was superintendent of the Nicholas County school system for 16 years before retiring in 2014, said that moving the school was pursued the whole time he was superintendent.

He gives credit to Shrout and Lane for never giving up.

"As part of the culture, the history of Nicholas County, it's very important for the kids to see what school was like in those days," Reid said. "It was a unique opportunity."