BROOKSVILLE — For those whose elementary school days date back to the early 20th century, it will be a chance to revisit their early years. Today's schoolchildren, on the other hand, will be able to see what a typical school was like prior to the days of white boards and indoor restrooms.
Young and old alike are invited to the opening from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday of the long-awaited replica One-Room School House, circa 1885, at Russell Street Park in Brooksville.
Most one-room schools across America closed with the advent of consolidation in the early 1950s. And most eventually disappeared, particularly in Florida, where termites and weather decimated the old frame buildings, according to Gretchen Countryman, education coordinator for the Hernando Historical Museum Association.
None remained in Hernando County. So building a replica was necessary to recapture an important piece of local history, Countryman decided.
Sponsored by the Hernando Heritage Museum, the roughly $60,000 replica represents a 20-year vision of Countryman, an avid educator and herself a product of a one-room school in Nelliston, N.Y., 1946 through 1951.
"It's been a long time coming," said Countryman, 72, as she surveyed the schoolhouse, on which construction began in January. "I've spent a lot of time here."
Over the last two decades, Countryman has served as a tour guide at the May-Stringer Heritage Museum in Brooksville and taught replicated classes in a third-floor bedroom there, refurbished as an early school room.
She boxed up her belongings last week and moved them to the newly built replica, which will mimic the Lykes family school, which served a dozen or so students each year from the mid to late 1800s about 5 miles west of Brooksville.
The new 850-square-foot frame structure with stone pillars, front porch and corrugated metal roof features an eye-opening egress once inside the front door. Boys are directed into the classroom from one side, girls from the other.
A pot-bellied stove sits in one corner while a nearby stand holds a stout water jug — items the teacher had to tend and fill first thing each morning.
A teacher's desk and chair face 28 student desks, each provided with a replica slate and chalk. A world globe, a set of reproduction maps and reproduction student books, including the then-ubiquitous McGuffey Readers, round out the supplies.
Matching indigenous lumber of the era, the building's floorboards are of Western pine. The chair rail that encompasses the room was sawed and lathed from a huge chinaberry tree cut down to make way for the schoolhouse.
Paul C. Beasley and his Treelawn Builders of Brooksville undertook the construction.
"He went to a one-room school," Countryman noted, "so his heart is in it."
Outdoors hangs an 1886 school bell, an original that rang students to class at various Hernando County schools, lastly at Brooksville Elementary.
"We don't have an outhouse," Countryman points out.
Bowing to sanitation and environmental needs, the side yard standard privy has been supplanted with a flushing restroom. The frame structure, painted to match the schoolhouse, also will serve adjacent Russell Park, the nearby Brooksville Railroad Depot Museum and the Good Neighbor Trail, which traverses the back of the property.
The cluster of attractions will provide an enticing destination, not only for tourists, but also for school field trips, Countryman said. She is looking forward to welcoming students starting early next year in her schoolmarm garb and treat listeners to an hourlong class of the three R's, plus morals, manners and discipline of the 1800s. Her classes also will draw on the iconic historical novel of Florida, A Land Remembered, by Patrick D. Smith.
The schoolhouse will be available as a meeting place after the formal dedication on Dec. 6, after the snowbirds return, Countryman said. She wants to recognize them, along with the many local residents who have given financially to the project.
She acknowledged that a good portion of the money came from her own family — including her husband, Ken, and son, Louis, and his wife, Marcia, California residents. Louis Countryman's employer, Amgen, a biologics manufacturer, matched his donation.
Over the last several years, Heritage Museum volunteers have raised money by making and selling pioneer crafts and games, holding raffles and garage sales, and sponsoring a wine tasting and golf tournament.
During the fundraising years, Countryman's focus never faltered as her dream reached fruition. She believes it was an important mission.
"You have to understand the past," she says, "to delve into the future."
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]