Behind drop ceilings and cheap paneling, old wainscots and even schoolhouse lights awaited discovery.
Built in 1851 in Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the schoolhouse is part of a “family compound” centered on an old stone house. When the school closed in the 1950s, the building was used for soybean storage and then converted to an apartment. Donna and her family have restored it as guest space, retaining the schoolhouse theme. “At antiques stores and fleamarkets, we looked for artifacts from the hundred-year period the building served as a school: desks, pencil sharpeners, slate-boards, and such memorabilia as portraits of Washington and Lincoln and old U.S. flags.” A community center across town graciously sold them back the original schoolhouse bell.
When restoration was complete, the family held a School Open House. “Some neighbors got teary-eyed telling stories about their time here—first kiss, trips to the outhouse, the old pot-belly stove, where they sat,” Donna says. The party favor given to each guest was a paper bag filled with a peanut-butter sandwich, an apple, a pencil labeled Amity School, caramels, and Mary Jane candies.
After restoring an 18th-century stone farmhouse, adapting an old barn, and bringing life back to the schoolhouse, Donna and her family offer these tips:
• If you love it, do it.
• Buy what you like when you see it— you’ll use it somewhere, someday.
• Never compromise the history or purpose of the building. To restore an old building is to celebrate its legacy, not to adulterate it.