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Norwich Schoolhouses Put on National Register

School children pose for a photograph at Norwich’s Root School, circa 1940. (Courtesy Root District Game Club)

School children pose for a photograph at Norwich’s Root School, circa 1940. (Courtesy Root District Game Club)

Norwich — Two community organizations could have a received a lag up on raising the funds needed to restore two town landmarks — Root School on Union Village Road and Beaver Meadow School on Chapel Hill Road.

In early June, the two schoolhouses were added to the National Register of Historic Places, a program created to identify historically significant landmarks in the United States and offer support to protect and restore them. A listing on the National Register means certain federal investment tax credits can be applied to the restoration projects.

Residents have met in recent years to discuss how to restore and maintain the town’s two surviving one-room school houses, but Nancy Hoggson, chairwoman of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission, is hopeful the historic recognition from the National Parks Service will open the buildings to new funding opportunities.

“It can really strengthen a grant application,” she said. “It reinforces for the funder that these really are historically significant buildings.”

In 1952, the Norwich School Board and the Root District Game Club, a small organization of families that live near the Root Schoolhouse, agreed to transform the schoolhouse into a community center.

In the same year, the school board sold the Beaver Meadow Schoolhouse to the Chapel Association for $5. It, too, has been used for a community center ever since.

The two landmarks are Norwich’s last two surviving schoolhouses. In the 1950s, only five schoolhouses remained in the town. Since then, two have burned down and one was transformed into a residence.

Brian Cook, president of the Root District Game Club, said up until now the group has been able to “pass the hat,” chipping in small donations to keep the Root Schoolhouse in good condition. But the foundation is crumbling, and the restoration project is much too large for their organization to take on alone.

“We think that it’s a pretty cool story that the two houses that went to these community groups, those same groups for more than 60 years have been taking care of these buildings,” Cook said. “But the buildings’ needs have become greater.”

The failing foundation at the Root Schoolhouse was first documented in 2002, and in 2011, the game club ceased all community events in the structure because its insurance company said it was unsafe. Restoring the foundation could be a six-figure job, Cook said.

“Once we’ve made our case, we are going to cast our net as wide as possible,” he said. “Chances are that this is, at minimum, a six-figure fundraising job, but I think that it will probably depend more on private funders than government funding.”

The game club is pondering the possible uses for the building.

Restoration efforts at the Beaver Meadow Schoolhouse are less extensive, but the Beaver Meadow Schoolhouse Association does hope to install a water and septic system. The school plays host to annual holiday celebrations, Halloween parties and regular potluck dinners. Hoggson said the Beaver Meadow association is further along in the fundraising process.

“The schoolhouse association was also awarded a cultural facilities matching grant from the State of Vermont for $22,500 in September 2012,” according to the Norwich Historical Society’s website. “They have also received a $10,000 grant from the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation with a $4,000 pledge to be matched in 2014.”

Hoggson said the historical society has helped the Beaver Meadow association with grant applications, and plans to do the same when the game club is ready to apply for funding.

“Not only are these community treasures, they are Norwich treasures, they’re Vermont treasures, and now that they’re on the register, they are national treasures,” Cook said.

Katie Mettler can be reached at kmettler@vnews.com or 603-727-3234.