SCARBOROUGH — On hot summer days, many students walked barefoot to the Beech Ridge School, then spent the day studying with dirt caked between their toes.

In the dead of winter, when snow drifts were high and times were especially hard, some siblings from nearby farms attended on alternating days so they could share a single pair of shoes.

Such everyday bits of history illustrate how much public education and the lives of children have changed since the former one-room schoolhouse operated from the mid-1850s to the mid-1940s.

To give that history a home, the Scarborough Historical Society has launched a campaign to raise as much as $200,000 to preserve and restore the Beech Ridge Schoolhouse at 184 Holmes Road. The goal is to turn a building that’s been vacant and neglected for 30 years into a living history center and public gathering space.

“We’d like to bring schoolchildren here and have them experience what school was like back then,” said Becky Delaware, a retired teacher who is the society’s vice president.

“Kids today would be aghast at the idea of children drinking from the same dipper in a bucket of water,” Delaware said. “Noah and the flood were taught as historical facts. And children were expected to do high-level mental math that kids use calculators for today. So much has changed.”

Built before 1854, the Beech Ridge School once was a neighborhood center for families who lived in the more rural western section of Scarborough, away from the more prosperous neighborhoods near Route 1 and the coast. That’s probably why it’s still standing somewhat intact.

The Beech Ridge School circa 1915, with teacher Mable Storey. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The town had 13 one-room district schools in the late 1800s and early 1900s. While some of the wood-frame buildings are long gone, several have been repurposed as commercial or residential properties, including the former Broadturn, Black Point, Beech Hill, Oak Hill, Blue Point, Pine Point, Scottow’s Hill and Libby schools.

“This is the only one left that hasn’t been converted into something else,” Delaware said.

The society acquired the schoolhouse last fall from the Beech Ridge Community Club, a defunct neighborhood women’s group that purchased the building after it closed in 1945. The club had two members left: Arneta Berry and her brother, Eric Berry, who had become an honorary member as the building’s caretaker. He contacted the society, wanting to transfer ownership of the schoolhouse to an organization that might preserve it for a positive public purpose.

“There was no money left to keep the power on or take care of it,” Eric Berry said. “We wanted it to be put back to good use, but we didn’t want it to become a repository for (the society’s) extra stuff.”

The club bought the schoolhouse from the town in 1948, paying $1 for the building and about 2 acres of land. For many years, the club used it as a place to hold meetings, community suppers and fundraisers for neighbors in need.

In the 1970s, students visited the former school on history field trips.

As club membership dwindled, the building was used by other groups in town, including a 4-H club and a junior rifle club. The last tenant was an ATV and snowmobile adventure club, which used it through 1989.

“It’s been sitting there vacant ever since,” Delaware said.

The society is waiting for a final cost estimate, but it’s clear the old schoolhouse needs a lot of work. The crumbling brick foundation and worn roofing must be replaced. The white clapboard siding needs fixing and a fresh coat of paint.

Aside from the crumbling foundation, the schoolhouse also needs its worn roofing replaced, and the white clapboard siding needs fixing. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Plywood covers a gaping hole in a rear wall caused by a fire. Several large signs posted on the building say, “Scarborough Historic Site, Please Be Respectful,” warning away vandals who have done damage in the past.

Many original interior features – desks, doors, blackboards, windows, interior walls and the ceiling – have been removed, replaced or significantly altered since the 1950s. At some point, two front doors became one, the coat-room entryway was removed and the potbelly stove was replaced with a furnace.

Still, it’s possible to imagine what it was like to attend the Beech Ridge School, especially if you visit with Delaware and her sister-in-law Joyce Alden, who’s also a retired teacher and the society’s treasurer. They’ve been poring over town reports and studying the building for months, peeling back decades of modern upgrades to see what lies beneath.

“With everything we take apart, we discover something new,” Alden said on a recent frigid day, her breath visible inside the nearly empty building.

Boys entered and sat on one side of the schoolhouse, and girls entered and sat on the other. In 1894, 44 people ages 4 to 21 were eligible to attend the Beech Ridge School, but only 14 were registered as students and average attendance ranged from 10 to 13 students. Attendance was an issue in all town schools, prompting the superintendent to regularly admonish parents for not meeting the state’s compulsory education law in annual town reports.

Teachers usually were unmarried women, who were paid as little as $7 per week and boarded with town residents. Students provided their own writing slates and chalk or – when they were older and would make fewer costly mistakes – paper, ink and pens. And they all used an outhouse behind the school until a chemical toilet was installed in the 1920s.

Exactly how much of the original schoolhouse can be restored remains to be seen. The society has raised more than $1,300 in donations so far and plans to seek grant funding. Several residents have offered professional services free of charge – including a structural engineer and an excavation company – and “a lot of grunt labor.”

Scarborough Historical Society Vice President Becky Delaware, left, and treasurer Joyce Alden inside the schoolhouse. In 1894, 44 students were eligible to attend classes there, but average attendance was about a quarter of that. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The hope is to replace the foundation by the end of 2019 and move on to other exterior repairs in 2020. The short-term goal is to raise $100,000, but society members admit it could cost at least $200,000 to transform the old schoolhouse into a dream venue with modern bathroom and kitchen facilities, a parking lot and a regular lineup of student visits, guest lecturers, musical performances and other community events.

“We’re a group of volunteers with certain expertise,” Alden said. “We can use all the help we can get.”

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