Nonprofit Association Works To Save Old School House
After years of neglect, an old school house is getting a new life.
Karen Almeter is director of the New Bethel School Preservation Association, a nonprofit group dedicated to saving the rock school house on New Bethel Road near Anderson. The nonprofit group formed in 2011.
Almeter said, “My husband and I and our kids have lived by the school since we came to Missouri in 1984. I always loved that old school.”
She said she used to imagine the children laughing and dreamed of refurbishing it and reopening it, however, it was privately owned. Then, in 2011, it came on the market.
“We called a meeting and decided to form a nonprofit to save the school. We had a fairsized group at that first meeting
and I just presented the question, ‘How many of you are interested in saving the school?’ We incorporated and started scheduling fundraisers.”
Using fundraisers and private donations, the nonprofit purchased the school and started the work of refurbishing it.
Almeter said the school was in terrible shape. The stone walls were covered in vines, and there was a hole in the floor. Much work had to be done.
“We’ve done a lot of the labor ourselves. We’ve had a lot of labor donated,” she said. “We had a cabinetmaker donate work to build new windows. About half of them had to be built from scratch, they were so damaged. An electrician, Todd Longnecker, donated his labor and the wiring for outlets.”
“I’ve done a lot of work up there, but others have helped too,” she continued. “We’ve raised enough funds to have the ceiling drywalled. We also had the well pump restored. That was Jim McBee from Tiff City Pump.”
The pump head and the well are original, she said, but McBee had to get a new cylinder for the well, the part that actually pulls the water up.
“That was quite an undertaking, just locating the parts for a hand pump well and someone with the expertise to install it. It was amazing. I stayed there and watched the whole thing. To see that first water pumping was pretty exciting,” she said.
The nonprofit had to tear out and replace part of the school’s floor and also replace some of the floor joists because of water and termite damage, Almeter said.
“Finding the lumber to match the existing flooring took some doing. We laid that flooring ourselves.”
Some of the wainscoting had to be replaced because of water damage, she said. All the water damage came from a leak in the roof, which was repaired before they bought the building, she added.
They tore out some of the plaster on the walls, which was badly damaged, and replaced it with drywall, she said. They replaced the porch and steps and added a handrail. The next thing will be repairing plaster around the windows on the inside and painting, she said.
“With a building this old, there’s just a lot that has to be repaired,” she said. “As far as we know, it was built in 1915.” The school closed in 1948, she said.
As for what the school will be used for once finished, Almeter said it depends on the need.
“We’re reaching out to homeschool families for them to use the school for group lessons. We’re also reaching out to public schools for them to spend a day learning what school was like during the early 20th century,” she said.
She added that they will put in blackboards and old-fashioned desks with inkwells, of which she already has several.
She continued, “Another thing we want to do is demonstrate and teach old-time skills and teach people about the way of life in the early 20th century, so we will probably have workshops for particular skills. I envision having sewing classes and showing them how women used to use a treadle sewing machine.”
Other demonstrations could include quilting, woodworking, blacksmithing, rope making, spinning, etc.
“It would just depend on who’s available to teach and how much interest there is,” she said. “I also hope we would be able to have square dances and contra dances, a type of folk dance.”
The association will hold its annual Old Time Craft Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 5 at the school. There will be historic craft demonstrations, including blacksmiths, rope making, quilting, spinning, Dutchoven cooking, hand pumping water, washboard laundry, horseshoeing, etc. There will be a general store with handmade aprons and sunbonnets, rag dolls, old-time toys, lye soap, beeswax candles, farm-fresh eggs, blackberry preserves, various confections and penny candy. There will be bluegrass music and a smoked chicken dinner by His Table.
Karen Almeter, director of the New Bethel School Preservation Association, is pictured outside the school. The association is restoring the school, built in 1915 and closed in 1948.