By KATHRYN FLAGG
MONKTON — Doris Brace was one of the last students to attend the Monkton Boro School, graduating as an eighth-grader in 1959. For her, visiting the old building isn’t just a reminder of the way the school once looked, but also the type of education she and her classmates received in the classroom.
“I remember the row of desks that sat along there,” Brace said, gesturing toward the large windows on a recent visit. A few panes were missing, and the floorboards creaked as she moved about the old schoolroom. “I was always the one getting talked to for looking out the window.”
Now the former one-room schoolhouse, which hasn’t seen a student since 1960, stands silent and decaying.
A plastic bat dangles from one of the rafters, a remnant of the haunted houses that the town used to erect there. There are gaping holes in the walls, where cabinets and blackboards have been ripped down. There are holes in the ceiling, too, looking up into an attic-like second story
A handwritten paper sign, faded and curling at the edges, greets interlopers: “Enter at your own risk.”
But Monkton resident Karen Sutherland doesn’t see a ramshackle old shell of a building.
She sees a structurally sound historic building — and its potential. There’s the wooden floor, after all, that she envisions as a dance floor. As for the schoolroom, where students toiled away until 1960 at rows of desks that have long since disappeared, Sutherland sees a place for Scout and 4-H meetings, for craft classes and a possible senior center.
Landlocked by private property, the school has only the land it sits on, with no water, sewer or electricity and extremely limited access. So Sutherland is hard at work raising the money to relocate the building to a spot on the town’s recreation field off Hollow Road, just 800 feet away.
“Buildings like that really sing to me. I can’t really tell you why,” said Sutherland. “It’s the wood, I think. It’s the care that they were built with.”
The Boro Schoolhouse was built in the early 1800s, but today it’s the last of the old schoolhouses left in Monkton. After the school shut down, the town used the building for storage until 1987.
Sutherland began working in earnest to relocate the building about a year and a half ago. So far, she hasn’t had much luck procuring funds. A handful of grant applications have fallen through.
Now, she and the other Monkton residents working on the project have turned to fund-raising — which she admits is a tough prospect in the current economy.
But Sutherland hopes that a series of benefit square and contra dances this spring at the Hinesburg Town Hall, as well as a golf tournament on June 11 in Williston, will start chipping away at the $32,000 she said the project needs in order to move the old schoolhouse to the recreation field.
MEMORIES OF THE SCHOOL
For longtime Monkton residents, a trip to the old Boro schoolhouse brings up as many memories as it does visions of the future.
Bob Shea and Roger Cota, who, like Brace, attended the school, joined her in her exploration of the classroom. They poked their heads into the room where they stored their lunch boxes, and where the school kept a jug of water for students.
“All the teachers back then, they were so firm and upright,” Brace said, remembering her teacher, Mrs. Doris Agan. “But they wanted you to do the right thing at the right time. They kind of commanded respect, but they earned it, and you loved them.”
Cota chuckled as he remembered one of the teachers reaching for the leather strap she kept in her desk drawer for punishing students.
“Sometimes she’d just reach in her desk, and down in the bottom drawer — I can picture that — pull that bottom drawer open, and you could hear a pin drop,” Cota said. “If nobody really knew that she opened it, she’d take it out and lay it on her desk. But if she picked it up again —“
“Somebody was going to get it,” Brace jumped it.
“You’re darn right they were,” Cota said.
Brace attended the school as a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grader, and the small classroom forged tight bonds and a sense of camaraderie — and inspired a bit of “scrapping.”
“Sometimes you’d get some hullabaloos on the way to school,” she said with a laugh.
It was at the Boro School that Brace had hot lunch for the first time — hot lunch consisting of a plate of “Hungarian goulash” that a woman from town would bring over in a roaster pan, bread and butter, and dried fruit from the government commodities.
After school, she recalled, she and a friend would walk to the local corner store — the very building Sutherland and her husband, Pete, now call home — to pool their money and buy treats.
And Cota remembered the teacher at the school asking for students to volunteer to split wood to keep the classroom warm.
“It was volunteer or be cold,” Brace added. But as Cota remembered it, there was always some student eager for the chance to escape the classroom, just for a few minutes, to do the chore.
Shea, Cota and Brace had only been back to the school a few times since they were students — Shea once in the 1960s, during a yard sale when the school’s furniture was sold off.
Sutherland acknowledges that not everyone in Monkton is in favor of moving the building — and she understands some of the opposition.
One resident, whose property borders the edge of what used to be Monkton’s town green, has told her that moving the schoolhouse would further erode Monkton’s original appearance, and that he’d rather see residents preserve the way the town looked in decades past.
But Sutherland worries that option simply isn’t feasible.
“I don’t want to have to move it,” Sutherland said. “But it looks like it might be the only way to restore it. It would be a terrible loss I think if we lost that building.”
Just as importantly, Sutherland said moving and restoring the building would fill a hole that currently exists in Monkton’s social fabric.
“The kinds of stories that we want to share … between the old Monkton and the newcomers like us can’t happen,” she said. “The only place to gather is the grocery store … or at the school. There’s a gap in connection between the different groups of people. Neighbors don’t know each other. There’s only 2,000 people in town, but we have no way to see each other.”
Shea, Cota and Brace agreed that seeing the building moved, and fixed up, would be for the best.
“I think it’d be cool to see it all refurbished and set down there where you could use it,” Brace said.
“These old building, they set just too long,” Shea said. “Before you know it, it’s too late.”
MONKTON — One of Karen Sutherland’s fund-raisers for the Old Boro School restoration project will be held on Friday, March 20, at the Hinesburg Town Hall. The square and contra dance will feature caller Rachel Nevitt and Monkton’s own Howdy Neighbor Band.
Future benefit dances will also be held on April 17 and May 16.
On June 11, the schoolhouse restoration team will host a charity golf tournament in Williston.
For more information about the benefit dances, contact Karen Sutherland at 453-3795 or [email protected]. For information about the golf tournament, contact Jay Frater at 453-2711.