Schoolhouse a piece Western history |

Schoolhouse a piece Western history

Dennis Webb
New Castle Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

NEW CASTLE ” The two truckloads worth of soda cans are gone.

The building has been stabilized so there’s less chance of it falling down.

It’s a start.

The new owners of the old Peach Valley schoolhouse have taken the first tentative steps toward restoring the historic structure, which comes as welcome news to people interested in seeing it saved.

“It’s going to take a lot to do it but I hope that they do, to preserve it,” said La Verne “Bubbles” Starbuck, a Silt-area resident who has researched the history of the schoolhouse.

Laurie Evans, who bought the building in Peach Valley west of New Castle with her husband Don, said restoration will take some time. They also bought a home next to the schoolhouse and need to build a garage there first, she said.

But Evans isn’t intimidated by the work that lies ahead once they can focus on the schoolhouse. They moved this year from Cincinnati, where they had restored a farm property.

“It was a lot more work than that schoolhouse is going to be,” Evans said.

Still, Evans said they know the building will require much work.

“We’ve been in it,” she said.

They pulled out a lot of junk and burned it in a bonfire. They removed soda cans dating back to the 1980s that had been stored in feed sacks that mice had chewed through, and they trucked the cans to the Rifle Senior Center for recycling.

They also secured the leaning building with cables in hopes of helping keep it upright.

Glenwood Springs resident Glenn Vawter, coordinator of a coalition that is encouraging Garfield County to put together a historic preservation program, considers the schoolhouse to be a high priority because of its destabilized condition.

“It’s really deteriorating,” Vawter said.

Starbuck said she fears that it could cave in. It needs a new roof and the doors need to be adjusted so they hang right, she said.

Starbuck, a retired teacher, did research on country schools for a column she used to write for the Citizen Telegram in Rifle.

“When I retired I didn’t want the history of the schools to be lost because that way of life is gone; it will never be again,” she said.

She said country schools had a lot to do with the settling of the West.

“They were the life of the community,” she said.

The Peach Valley schoolhouse was opened in 1896. Starbuck said it was the fourth to be built in the county. Some earlier ones were built in the Glenwood Springs area.

Various schoolhouses in the area have met different fates. Ones in Canyon Creek, on Missouri Heights, in Battlement Mesa and in Cardiff near Glenwood Springs have been restored. Others, such as up Garfield Creek south of New Castle, have been remodeled into homes. Schools in South Canyon and up Dry Hollow south of Silt burned down, and some north of Silt also are gone, Starbuck said.

Betty Dawson, secretary of the New Castle Museum, has spoken to the Evanses about the Peach Valley schoolhouse and is encouraged by their desire to work on the building.

“They seem very interested and very nice and anxious to redo it, which is good because it looks pretty bad,” Dawson said.

Evans said she and her husband weren’t looking for a historical renovation project when they moved to the area. Her husband had taken a job as an engineer at Fiberforge, a company near Glenwood Springs that specializes in advanced composite materials. Their farm back in Ohio sold more quickly than they expected, and they were lucky to find the home for sale in Peach Valley, she said. The schoolhouse came along with the property.

The couple hopes to restore the schoolhouse to its original condition. The couple hasn’t pursued grants or other assistance in connection with the restoration. Such aid can come with dictates on how restoration should proceed, such as what color of paint should be used, Evans said.

She said a later addition to the rear of the building is in such poor shape that it must be torn down, something that grants wouldn’t allow.

Evans likes to paint and also grows and dries flowers that she makes into arrangements. She’d like to use the schoolhouse as studio, if her husband is amenable to the idea.

Evans said she would love to have people contact her and share their stories and memories about the schoolhouse. She might assemble a history of the building from those stories. Once the building is safely restored, the Evanses might open it up for occasional public visits, she said.

Dawson said the school bell and other items from the building have been removed over the years, and she is hoping people might return them as it is restored.

The Evanses may be reached at (970) 876-0754.

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