MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Follow the narrow dirt road off W.Va. 45. No longer will you find the red, one-room Smoketown School House that opened its doors to students from 1869 to 1940. The brick building that was part of Berkeley County's free school system march was razed in July of this year. Now, all that remains are 400 of its bricks.
"We saved so many of the bricks so that any history buffs, alumni, any community people, anyone who knows about a one-room school or wished they had been a part of it - these bricks serve as a memento for that," said Donna Kilmer, Berkeley County Historical Society member and historian for Greensburg United Methodist Church. "We would just like to share and give back to the community something that they might (have been) a part of, especially for those who came and went."
The trustees of Greensburg United Methodist Church are accepting donations for the bricks salvaged from the school house, which had been added to the National Registrar of Historic Places in 1994.
"It's not so much about the sale of the bricks, it's about sharing the memories," Kilmer said.
According to Berkeley County Historical Society archives, Smoketown School House was built in 1869 — on land that had been deeded in 1859 to trustees of Smoketown Church - when Berkeley County offered a nod to the free school system. The school house was situated within the Opequon Township District and served first- through eighth-grade students from September through April - the start of planting season.
In its heyday, Smoketown School House was a one-story brick structure of simple architecture — associated most closely with the Greek Revival style — surrounded by five oak trees predating its existence. The inside was comprised of an open space. A small shed behind the building housed the teacher's horse and buggy. Two outhouses sat to the building's west.
After closing in 1940, the school house — sold to Greensburg EUB Church, now Greensburg United Methodist — was gutted and converted into a three-room residence for caretakers of the adjoining Smoketown Cemetery.
By 1960, one-room school houses had boarded up in Berkeley County.
Kilmer, with help from her family, spearheaded the restoration of Smoketown School House in 1992. The interior was again gutted and restored to replicate its original form. For Kilmer, the undertaking was not a surprise, as her father and uncle attended the original structure, her mother was Berkeley County's last one-room schoolhouse teacher and Kilmer, herself, attended a one-room school house and later became a teacher.
"It was like a little family project," she said. "I had attended a one-room class. I knew exactly what it was about. I also, being a teacher, understood the importance of education, the importance of history."
At the conclusion of the school house's restoration, a class reunion was celebrated in 1993. Attendees included graduates who had attended the school as far back as 1916.
In subsequent years, Smoketown School House lent itself to tours, conducted by the Berkeley County Historical Society.
"In order for students to appreciate the present, they need to understand or have knowledge of the past," said Kilmer, who herself dressed in historical costume and conducted tours. "Most of them had never, ever seen anything like that."
By 2009, tours of Smoketown School House had ceased.
The building was condemned in June by John Dick, plan reviewer and inspector of the Berkeley County Engineering and Building Inspection.
According to Kilmer, due to deterioration, making the building structurally sound would have cost the church about $30,000.
Therefore, the trustees made the decision to raze the building.
However, the brick sale is more sweet than bitter for Kilmer, who believes Smoketown School House had its time in the sun.
"I felt that it had served its purpose," she said. "It had a chance to be an exemplary example of what education was like in early American history. I was just grateful for the time it was able to serve Berkeley County."
Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.