Christopher Kelly, November 07, 2019


Christopher Kelly, November 07, 2019


Wethersfield Stone One-Room School House
Trenton, New York
Randy Crawford
Muriel Webovetz
Bob Murphy
Cove Ceiling
Hardwood Floor
Winslow Homer
Four Panel Door


Christopher Kelly (Chris) has spent the majority of his life in upstate New York. A graduate of New Hartford High School and then Syracuse University, Chris is the retired owner and vice president of Jay-K Independent Lumber, a three-generation family-owned local business in New Hartford, New York.

With his wife Virginia, he raised his family in the Village of Holland Patent, where he restored his family home, one of the four stone churches on the village green. Chris has always lived an active life, and retirement has found him volunteering for a number of organizations. He has served as V.P of the Trenton Falls Association, Secretary of the West Canada Creek Riverkeepers, Chairman of the Holland Patent Planning Board, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust, and as a Trustee of Utica College.

Upon retirement Christopher's attention turned toward restoration and preservation of the Wethersfield Stone One-Room Schoolhouse in the Town of Trenton. He became President of the Wethersfield Historical Preservation Society, overseeing the full restoration of the Wethersfield Stone Schoolhouse.

Through the years they have been able to get the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, find funding through grants, and gather the community in preserving local history. He speaks in great detail about the process of reconstruction and how the community came together in the preservation of the space. A local, he is very aware of the history of Trenton. Though he believes he is not nearly as informed as his colleagues, I found him to be quite insightful.

Chris speaks with a colloquial Mohawk Valley accent that has been slightly edited for clarity's sake. In some moments of dialogue through his storytelling, his inflections become animated and I encourage listeners to consult the audio to understand the full breadth of Chris's knowledge.


Colin Havener


Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta




Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY










Upstate New York
Utica, NY


Colin Havener


Christopher Kelly


10 Foery Drive
Utica, NY


CH = Colin Havener
CK = Chris Kelly

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

This is Colin Havener, of the Cooperstown Graduate Program. The date is November 7th, 2019, at 10:00 AM, interviewing Chris Kelly. This interview is taking place at Chris Kelly's residence at 10 Forty Drive, Utica NY. Can you please state your name for me?

My name is Chris Kelly. I am a native of the area; I grew up in this area. I'm the fifth of six children. I graduated from New Hartford High School and then went to Syracuse University and then graduated from Utica College. Involved my whole life in the family lumber yard business. With my wife, we have a great interest in art and particularly in architecture. Wherever we travel, we are always looking at buildings. She is a great preservationist and has always been working through the years to save important older structures, properties, parks, recreation, things like that. Some years ago, in the 1970s, my wife and I came upon an abandoned stone church in the village of Holland Patent. It is one of five churches on the village green, four of them are stone, and we were able to buy the stone Welsh Congregational Church. We moved in with our three boys and lived there for the next forty-plus years. While living there, it was a great little neighborhood for us. Great for family life and bringing up children, and it became our hometown.

About two miles east of our house, on Route 365, was this neat little one-room schoolhouse, which also was made out of local stone, local Trenton limestone. It was built in 1825 and used as a one-room schoolhouse until about 1938. Then, it was one of, six, seven, or maybe eight schoolhouses, in the Town of Trenton. I believe there were 14,000 one-room schoolhouses in New York State at one time. Now they are easy to find, the one-room schoolhouses, but stone schoolhouses are a little bit more unusual. I have no idea how many there are, but this was one of them, and it was in disrepair. My wife had been in the preservation area for years, and I kept saying to her, "You know, that building needs help, someone should get involved with it." So one day, I came home from work and she said, "They are going to have a meeting up the street at a friend's house to talk about the schoolhouse." I was thinking she was going to say that she was going, and she said she couldn't go, but I should go.

So, I went into Muriel Werbovetz living room sitting with about 10 or 12 other people, and next to me was Bob Murphy who is also telling his story about the schoolhouse. I knew of him and talked to him on the phone, but I never met him before. The first order of business was from the chairman of the committee. Muriel Werbovetz said, "We need to elect a president." And I looked around the room and everybody had their head down and I am thinking, "Oh boy." My new friend Bob next to me tapped me on the shoulder, and he said, "If you'll be the president, I'll be the vice president."

That is how I got started. The schoolhouse was really in disrepair. The l structure of the roof would come nowhere near to meet today's building code. The building is about thirty feet long and there was a huge dip in the roof. To step back just a little bit, from 1937, when the school closed, to the early 2000s, the schoolhouse had gone through a few different owners. One person tried to live there and then someone else used it for an insurance office. They had built partitions in it and redone the floors, the walls, put a drop ceiling in, and then it was abandoned for a few years.

To get back to 2007, when I first got involved, the roof had sagged. It had a lot of rot and [was] leaking. It was covered with a tarp and the inside was just a mess for part of the ceiling was caving in. Kids entered and destroyed things, vandals I will say, not necessarily kids. Anyway, the building was really needing help. In 1995 a group of neighbors, I was not one of them, or not included, bought the school for $2,500. They did two really important things. First thing they did was they hired an architect named Randy Crawford of the firm of Crawford and Stearns, in Syracuse, which limits their practice to restoration projects all over New York State and the East Coast. [They] helped my wife and me on our church, which was built in the 1840s. They hired him to do an assessment report on the building. Randy wrote about a twenty-page report telling what the problems were and what should be done. Also, at the same time, they got the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which was a good selling point for us in our program of going out asking for help from the community, saying, "You know, we just don't think this is a[n] important building, important people like the National Register think it's an important building and it should be saved."

With that, not much happened until about 10 years later when we had the meeting and I agreed to be the president. There were a group of enthusiastic people in that meeting, and we decided that we had to go out and raise money. The first thing we would do is get the roof secure so the water would not run in. We got to looking at things and discovered that the roof had to come down because it was not salvageable. It turned out that the roof rafters were hardwood logs. I do not know what kind of wood they were, but they were about six or seven inches in diameter. It was sort of a low-pitched roof, maybe a four and twelve roof, four inches and twelve inches pitch, which is similar to a modern ranch house. Maybe just a little bit steeper than that, but they were spaced about thirty inches to three feet apart, which held up for, 170 or 180 years, but by modern building codes, it was nowhere near strong enough.

We hired a builder. At that time, we thought, because we were spending someone else's money, money that was donated by neighbors, foundations, and other groups, we thought we should do everything by writing our own specifications and getting bidders. We [went through] the process. Our first bid for removing the roof and putting a new roof on we went with our low bidder, which was a nice gentleman who had a good reputation in town but did not have any feelings towards historic preservations. He did get the roof down and got the new roof on and got it covered and waterproofed.

The inside of the building was just loaded with junk. The town, gave us dumpsters. A group of volunteers, neighbors, from the small Town of Trenton just kept lugging the debris out and throwing it in the dumpsters. There was a wood floor in the building, that had at least three different layers of flooring, the original, and then two more that were put on in some remodeling or renovating that went on through the years. We were able to see what the original floor was like and save samples. There were many places where the floor was rotted right through with nothing left to selvage. In some places there were new walls that we removed. We discovered what we thought were the original walls that were covered with wainscot, about three and a half feet high, and then a plastered wall above. On further digging, we found out that plaster was applied right onto the original stone walls.

We removed the added suspended ceiling, or lowered ceiling, and discovered a coved ceiling, an arched rounded ceiling above. On the cove ceiling, half the plaster was missing. We discovered that the coved shaped rafters/joists supported were there and looked in good condition. The man hired to tear off the old roof, did a good job in preserving the ceiling joists. He took them out and stacked them up on the side lawn and then he took the old roof off. It was wide open to the elements, but in a matter of days, or a week or two, he had a new roof on with plywood. That got us undercover and secure for the winter of the first year we were involved.

After a long winter of thinking about things, we knew we needed to raise [money]. We did not have any idea how much money we had to raise. We went to the community, and just talked to people whom we knew and asked them for help. Incidentally, the first person that I talked to, to raise money was a man up the street who lives in a wonderful stone house and appeared to have some means. We thought he would be a good target to ask for money. I had never met him before, but he knew of me and I knew of him, and his family, and had a nice conversation. I told him right up front that I was there to ask for money, and before I finished the sentence, he said, "No," which really set me back [Laughter], because that was my first attempt at raising money. I politely talked to him for a while and shook his hand and left and shook my head all the way back down the road to the schoolhouse saying "Wow, what went wrong?" Anyway, we were able to raise a few thousand dollars and started real work on the building. The interesting part was two or three months later there was a check tacked to the front door from the man up the street for $1,000. He told me later that other people had tried in the past and nothing happened, and he just did not want to sink more money into a bad project. But after he saw what we were was doing, he supported us, and he came down and worked with us and has given us more money since. So, my foray into fundraising turned out to be a good one after that. Back to the money part, we raised money, we raised somewhere around sixty or seventy, or maybe $80,000. I do not know the exact amount, but more important out of that, forty or $50,000 at the most was individual donors, which went from $3,000 to $4,000 down to $10. Just people who wanted to help out, all well-intentioned, nice, almost all of it was from the Town of Trenton, which is maybe 2,000 people at the most. We also went to the Herkimer Oneida Community Foundation and asked for $29,000. We had done our homework and some specific reasons for the money, and they generously gave us a grant for $29,000.

Sometimes our architect, Randy Crawford would stop by just to show interest in what we were doing. We were in contact with him all the time, asking him what the right process was to work on the building.

[TRACK 1, 17:00 - Winslow Homer]

Randy emailed me one day and sent me a picture of a painting by Winslow Homer that belonged to a prep school in Connecticut or Massachusetts. I do not recall the name of it but the interesting thing about the picture was it could have been a picture of our schoolhouse. The artist was standing in the front door looking toward the back wall. We have two windows ten or twelve feet apart. Our building is like twenty feet by thirty feet. This building in the painting looked to be almost the same size. Then we have three windows on each side. This building had windows on the side, the painting, does not take in the whole side. The interesting thing was that the Winslow Homer building also has an arched ceiling with a little shelf around the edge of the ceiling, which really caught us by surprise because we did not know there was such a thing. In our remodeling project our second builder, Tom Kocyba, who had a real feeling for architectural preservation found evidence inside the building, that our arch ceiling also had a little shelf along the wall. It was exactly the same as the Winslow Homer painting. Also, the Winslow Homer painting, had side benches along both sidewalls, the thirty feet long walls and across the back wall. Tom found an exact outline of benches along our side wall and our back wall. He found them in the old plaster. That gave us an outline of the shape and dimensions of the benches that we built in our reconstruction.

Then we had a neighbor come along who asked us, "How [are we] going to heat it?" Bob Murphy, offered us an interesting cast iron stove that was dated from the 1880ss and seemed perfect. We ended up using the stove. One of our big dilemmas was, what era to make the inside of the building? If we wanted to go back to the original building when it opened in 1825, we believe that there were just exposed stone walls on the inside. Sometime after that, they put plaster right over the stones, which was evident in a few places. We have a small display area where we show part of that wall. That was one option we had, to restore it as an 1825 schoolhouse.

Somewhere later, with our architect and other knowledgeable people, we determined that the two-by-four stud walls with lath and plaster and then the wainscoting on the bottom, was from about the 1860s. That probably was the time that they constructed the cove ceiling.

[TRACK 1, 21:00]

We decided that we would build to the 1860s period. We had to get lights in the schoolhouse. Of course, it did not have electric lights in those days, but we bought lights that could simulate lights or lanterns that would have had candles in 1860 in them.

Back to the floor, when we were ready to put the new floor [in], a neighbor came along and said he thought it would be nice to have radiant heat. Well, that kind of caught me by surprise. We called Randy Crawford, our architect, and he said, "Well, that would be all right." He said, "You are going to have to heat it somehow and you are going to cover it up with a wood floor, and no one will know the difference except it will be warm." So, we did this, and the couple paid for the radiant heat system. In initially preparing the floor area Josh Rollins, as an Eagle Scout project, enlisted his troop and scout fathers to clear out the foundation area. We poured a concrete slab and we then had to fill the crawlspace in with sand. I remember the day we did it. We had maybe fifteen people, and I think the average age of them was 66 or 67. Just a happy group on a cold Saturday morning shoveling sand into a wheelbarrow, pushing it over the door, dumping it in, and leveling it out. Then we put the concrete floor on top of that, with the radiant heat in the floor. We eventually installed the new wood floor which is the exact same dimensions of floorboards in the original building, maybe as early as 1825. They were just one-by-eight tongue and groove native lumber, from the sawmill in the area. When we put the new roof on the building we had an open house for the community to explain what we were doing. We made sure we got everybody's email address, had them sign in, got their mailing address and, we asked them all for money. We said, "We need to raise money if we are going to complete the project." A John Secor asked a lot of questions and showed a lot of interest. I probably talked to him for a half hour. At that time the roof, had roof underlayment, no shingles. He said, "What are you going to do with the roof?" I said, "Well, we are going to use wood shingles. I said they are expensive, and they are expensive to put on. But that is our idea."

He says, "Well, that's a good idea." I showed him around and then he said he would be leaving, but he said, "When you get ready for that roof, call me." He said, "I will be down here with a gang of guys and we will put the roof on, free"

So, whenever it was, we went a whole winter with the temporary roof on. It was the following year, I called John. I had been in touch with him in the meantime, and he brought four or five men all, retired elderly men. They installed the roof shingles on the roof over a period of two weeks. I worked with them two or three days. It was a really fun project. It was a very safe roof, because of the low pitch and they had scaffolding on the sides, so the danger was less. We got that roof put on for nothing. Tom Kocyba, our builder, was very generous [on] keeping track of his time and did an awful lot of free work for us. He really had a feeling for how the building should be restored. He is the one that discovered the profile of the benches. He installed the old ceiling joists with a curve in them, perfectly. He was determined to do it the right way

[TRACK 1, 26:00]

that he saved as much of the wood lath that was on the old original coved ceiling and walls. If you are familiar with, wood lath, is pieces of wood about a quarter inch thick and maybe two inches wide of really rough-cut lumber four feet long. You do not see wood lath too much anymore, but Tom saved as many as he could and then he was able to buy new wood lath. He nailed the wood lath on the ceiling joists and then he put a plaster over the wood lath in the same method that they used in what we think was the 1860s. Today going into the building, you can't see the wood lath because it is covered. I have been in buildings with wood lath old buildings, and occasionally you can look up, and you can see the outline of the wood lath stripes on the ceiling. I am kind of hoping that it shows up on our ceiling, it has not in the past three or four years, but it may eventually. That ceiling was done exactly the proper way and exactly the way that it was done in the time that it was finished around 1860.

We do have [a display] of, an open area in one section of the one outside wall which shows the original roof rafters, the round logs that I spoke of. It shows the original wood lath, with plaster on it, and it shows the old wall with plaster. Then it shows the old wall with nothing on it, so you can get an idea of what the three different phases of the interior looked like.

Also, somewhere along the way, Paul Davidson, retired, teacher, stopped by, and said, "You need a new door." And I said, "Yes, we do need a new doorway and just have not gotten to it." He said, "What's it going to look like?" I said, "Well, I don't know." He said, "Well, why don't you draw a sketch of what you want. "I'll make it for you." I said, "Oh, okay." We went back to our architect Randy Crawford and said, "What do you think the front door looked like?" He said, "Well, I do not know." He said, "That is up to you to determine." I am going to the expert and he is asking me to do it. He said, "Here's what you do." He said, "You just drive up and down the roads in the neighborhood and find all the old buildings and see what kind of front doors they had." He said, "Probably the same man that built that door built other doors in the neighborhood from buildings around 1825."

[TRACK 1, 29:00]

Sure enough, we went around and looked. A lot of doors had been replaced, but there was a definite pattern in the doors that we did see, which might have been over maybe six to ten different houses or building doors, all had four panel doors. The door is about seven feet high We went back to our friendly volunteer to make the door and told him what we wanted. Six or eight months later, he returned with a perfect four panel door, which we have now in the schoolhouse. The interesting thing about all that is, you know, the roof people and the door person and a lot of others are people who just came and saw an interesting restoration was happening

[START OF TRACK 2, 00:00]

to preserve a nice old building and went out of their way to offer their help towards saving the building and saving us a lot of money.

We had a similar situation with the windows. There are six double hung windows, each window has twelve panes over twelve panes and they were all in pretty good condition. We could see some of them had wavy glass, which told us that they were really old glass, and some did not have wavy glass, which told us that they were newer glass, and I thought we were all set on that. One day our architect, was in there visiting, and he said, "Well, you are going to replace those two windows over there." And I said, "why? "Well, you look at the bars and those windows, the mutton bars," he said they're quite a bit fatter than the other windows. And I am thinking to myself, "Oh, brother, here we go; another project." He said, "You should get them to match." And we really wanted to do it the right way. So, I went to work on that, I was in the building supply business. I went down to my company and I said, "Can we get those windows? They said, "Well, the only company that we know of is from somewhere out in the Midwest; we will get a price." They got a price, it was like $400 a window; $800 for two of them. It was a lot more money than we wanted to spend. I drove down to the Southern Tier of New York and talked to a man who could do them fairly cheaply, but he needed to have the right knife to cut the design into these mutton bars. He said to buy those knives are expensive. He says it's a few hundred dollars for the knife. So I said, "Oh, brother." I did not want to do that. I am telling you all my secrets here. When we started building, we decided that we would try to keep the people that we hire to be local people. Just to keep the business in the town that we were asking all the people for the money to finish our building. At that time, I had another friend from my building days, who was an expert in reconstruction; he would like to work on the schoolhouse. He was from out of town. I said, "No." I felt guilty saying that to him. But I said, "I would like to keep it to locals." So anyway, to make a long story short, we could not find anybody to build the windows. So, the out of town builder friend came along one day, and I said, "Can you build those windows? Can you build them like this?" He said, "Sure, no problem. I can do it." So, in a matter of two or three weeks, he came back with the four sash we needed. I said to him, "How much do we owe you?" He said, "Nothing. You can have them free. I'm happy to do it."

Another happy story about the people we work with. Our builder, Tom Kocyba, who did most of the work also took the time to figure out what colors we needed to match the original colors. The plastered walls and ceilings are white. But the wood trim-there is kind of a very subtle difference between the two colors- but it is kind of a yellowish greenish, very light green, yellow color. Then the window sash, a yellow color, but they are authentic colors from let's say the 1850s or 60s the time the wainscot and windows were painted.

On our floor, I think we made a mistake, when we had put a new floor, which was nice, clean, eight-inch boards. I called the architect and said, "How do we finish those?" He said, "Oh, do not finish them." He said, "They were never finished in the beginning." He said "Invite everybody in and have them walk through the room and then you will know in a few days just what they look like now and they will be authentic." Well, I went back to my committee and our group and I told them; they did not like that idea. We did finish the floors, but I have second thoughts about that. It would have been nice to leave them. Bare wood, impossible to keep clean and always look dirty. The way we did it, I am sure it looks nicer.

Two things: one is, it is on a very small piece of land. It is maybe less than a quarter of an acre. It is probably, I do not know, 10% of an acre. It is just a little sliver of land and with no space for any septic system or water supply. When we talked to the central school in the beginning, they were very supportive and said they would like to be involved. [Certainly], they would like to bring children to the school. We were happy we got a great reception from them. Plus, as I mentioned from the town government. We had decided that we needed to have some kind of a toilet facility for the children. The building is 20 by 30, just one room, so there is no space in there. We were a little bit concerned about what we were going to do and the daughter of our great builder that helped us so much is an art historian, and teaches art history and between her and her father, they mentioned to us an idea for a building called a "tener" building, which is a 10-by-10 building, which I do not know if it is unique to the town we live in, but there are seven or eight of them around the town which are a hundred, or more than a hundred years old. Probably more than 150 years old. Just little buildings,10 feet square. There is one that is about 15 feet square and another one that is 12. Regardless, they said we should build a "tener" and we can use it for a toilet, and we can also use it for storage. We have this nice little board and batten building next to the schoolhouse, which is a copy of one of the ones in the town and it seems to fit the site very well.

The outbuilding was going to cost around $3,000. We went to CALIS, another group in the town, that had a fund available for projects. and asked them for, I think, $3,000. They really were interested. They told us how happy they were with what we were doing, but they only gave money for projects to do with the environment. So, then all of a sudden, we remembered that we were going to install a composting toilet so that fit their criteria for working to improve the environment. They gave us $3,000 most of which went to our composting toilet and part of it went to our "tener" building. Inside the schoolhouse we have a neat little information card on the wall which gives a history of the building with pictures of other 10-by-10 buildings in the town. That completed our building and the outside building and now we are working on just how we are going to use the building. I can add one more thing. One of the first pieces of advice we got from someone who said "You are going to get people coming around wanting to donate artifacts to the school, like a desk or something to do with an old school," and they said, "Do not take it." I said, "Oh, I was thinking that would not be nice?" And they said, "No, don't take it." They said, "You are going to end up with a collection of furniture that does not match, and it is from different eras, you know, over nearly 200 years, and it will just fill the room up and it will be a static museum, which people will come to visit once. Locals will not come back." So, we did not take anything. Now it is just an open room with a big stove in the middle, the benches on the side, the heated floor in perfect condition. We are working on programs, rules, and management of the building.

[Pause] Any questions?

[TRACK 2, 10:15]

What has been your favorite part of this project?

Well, restoration is a hobby. As I said, we have restored the church into a house we lived in, with three children, for years and years. The house I am in now we did a major restoration here and through the years we have had a couple of other buildings that I have restored.

That is always fun, I like building projects, and I like doing things for the town, history things. I really think that, the most fun was to see how the community responded. You know, the one man who said no, I asked him outright for $1,000. He said, "No." He came around when he saw it was a good project, which was gratifying for me. A lot of people who you know did not have much money were generous and a lot of people who you thought had extra money were generous. It really worked and the town officials said, "Whatever you need come and we'll do what we can." The school was the same way. They just gave me a good feeling that it was the right project, for all of us. It was nice.

[TRACK 2, 12:47]

Have you made any friends while working on this project?

I have my friend Bob there who volunteered to be vice president. I made a friend and then five or six years ago, I said, "Okay, Bob, it is time to switch. You will be the president. I will be the vice president now." We have been doing that for years.

[Phone Rings]

He is a great friend and his wife has been a big help and he has done a masterful job on a restoration of a house nearby. Then the whole group. I lived in the village for years, but I worked all the time and never was too involved with the community but got to know all of them, and they are all good friends and just nice, nice people. Good, good neighbors, and it has been really a lot of fun. A very good project.

[TRACK 2, 13:55]

Has your family been involved in this project?

My business is a family business. I have a son and a nephew who run the business, and I could joke and say I twisted their arms for donations, but I did not have to twist their arms. They were very generous with building materials, as were other building material suppliers in the area. Then my other boys and their wives and children have all been big help and a lot of support, moral support and physical labor. Which is part of the fun project of it. You know, like the idea of shoveling the sand, who wants to shovel sand? Well, you have got eight or ten people who all have non-labor-intensive jobs with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. It's kind of fun, you know, and you have a lot of laughs, [with] what you are doing, so lots of projects like that. Then the people who came to offer to help, that's amazing.

We needed to do some repointing. We started repointing and the architect came around and said, "Why are you repointing?" I said, well, you know, the building's nearly 200 years old and through the years, a lot of people with good intentions would repoint the building where the old mortar was missing and needed to be replaced. Most of them, probably all of them, were not trained on what they were doing and by an expert's assessment of what they saw, the repointing was not a neat job by any means. We thought it was good to repoint it, and I happened to talk to the town supervisor, and he said, "Well, we have a summer project going with, hiring kids to mow cemeteries and mow different parts of the town and work." He said, "We can send them over." We just put them on benches there with a hammer and a chisel and they just chiseled out the old mortar. Well, the architect came - oh, and then in the meantime, we had a retired schoolteacher come along, whose father-in-law was a stone mason, and he had worked in his summer vacations with his father-in-law and done a lot of repointing. He said he would do the repointing for us. Well, there are two problems. One is you have to get the right mortar, which is a whole other story, but he said he would do it. But then back to the architect. He came along and said, "Why are you doing that?" And I said, "We got looking at it and the more we looked at it, the worse it looked." And by that time, we were 90% finished. He said, "Well, I think you've made a mistake." He said, "You should have left it because it just shows people what happens through 200 years of an aging building." So, that was another mistake we made, that and finishing the floor. In the meantime, it looks nice and neat and great help from volunteers and the town. Just made the project that much easier.

[TRACK 2, 17:44]

How do you see the space being used in the future?

Well, the school is going to use it. They want to bring fourth graders up, but at best, that will only be a few days a year. The original, the building is a Wethersfield schoolhouse. How do we spell that? W. E. T. H. E. R. right? W. E. T. H. E. R. Wethersfield okay [laughter].

They were settlers from Wethersfield, Connecticut, who the history of the area says that they came in the early 1800s to find a better place to grow corn but in the area now there are remnants of some nice apple orchards. They did have fruit trees, and there is an outcropping of limestone rock, four miles on each side. There are lots of vacant quarries. There is one about 150 feet from the building, a pretty fair size hole in the ground, not by today's standards, but I am sure by a hundred or 150- or 200-year-old standards. It was a large quarry, but some of those settlers from Wethersfield were stone cutters and quarry operators. So, they were farmers, and orchard people and stone farmers [cutters?]. There is a lot of sand in the area. I do not know what they would have used the sand for in those days. I am sure there was a lot of lumber in the area, so that is what they came in and did.

[TRACK 2, 20:02]

Can you tell me a little bit more about the town?

I mean, let me go back. I did not answer your question. I think I will tell you about the town. What were you envisioning the school to be? So, we have this building, which is twenty-by-thirty, which is not very big. Just one room heated and six windows and a door. Not very good acoustics, bad acoustics. The sound really bounces around. So, we have the school kids coming for a few days a year, we hope to get the local school and there are two or three central schools within ten to fifteen miles. So, we hope to get them, in the area, and we hope to get them over to the schoolhouse. After that, we think maybe get other local organizations, different clubs or groups and, or we would, be open to renting it to people because we certainly need money to keep it going. One of our dilemmas is that we have an electric bill, which is primarily for that radiant heat.

And that is, could be, six or $700 a year. But our biggest bill, our only other bill is an insurance bill, which is, around $1,100, and it is difficult to go ask people for money, and [they] ask you, "What you are going to spend it on?" You say, "Insurance." That is not too exciting, compared to telling them we're restoring this great stone schoolhouse. One of our options is, we have been talking with the town and the school, possibly giving them the building. It is owned by an organization called the Historic Wethersfield Preservation Society; they are the owners. It is a 501c3, nonprofit, but each year we are going to have to raise those $2,000 just to pay the ongoing bills. Then in another ten or fifteen years when we would start having to fix up the things that we have already done, we are going to need more money.

[TRACK 2, 23:29]

How have you been raising money?

How have we been raising money? Well, we really have not raised money in five or six years, and, we did have a small open house this fall. We were not shy about asking for money at the open house. Now that gets us a little bit, you know depending on a number of people, and we expect to have another larger open house in the spring. Then, if we have to, we will just go on a campaign and say what we need. We ended up with about 200 people on our email list, we send out a Christmas card every year and we attached to that a donation sheet that will bring us in a little bit. If we have to, we can just go ask people say, "Listen, we have to keep it going and that we are not talking big money." So, I am sure we can do it. It is just a little bit of effort. That is all by a few people, so we can do that.

[TRACK 2, 25:23]

Are you proud of this project?

Proud. I am proud, you know, the whole town should be proud, you know. Just when you drive around the countryside, I do now, I always say to my wife, "Look it, there is a one-room schoolhouse." You do see a lot of them, you see a lot of them that are really falling apart. I mean, some of them are. Another interesting fact, in the turn of the last century around 1900, half the people in the country went to one-room schoolhouses. The other half were in metropolitan areas with larger schools. In this little town that I am in, the Town of Trenton, which my guess is 2,000 people, I do not know how many people they had [in the]1800s, a lot less. It had six or eight one-room schoolhouses and the kids all walked to school. Every day, we hear stories about how far people walked to school. The closer the school, the more schoolhouses there were, the shorter distance they had to go.

When we drive around and see those buildings, if you have a keen eye, you can see lots of them have been made into houses. There is another wonderful stone schoolhouse not too far from our Wethersfield schoolhouse, maybe fifteen miles, near Newport, NY. Ours is a more, irregular stone, it is not all cut, the other one is all squared and shaped stone. I do not know what the age of the building is, but the schoolhouse appears to be the same size. Say, six or seven hundred square feet. This other one, which appears to be the same size, has a house attached to it. The only reason I can tell is just by the gable ends in it and the six windows in it. I am betting it was a schoolhouse. My point is, they are out there, and you can see them. Particularly when you come to one, which is in horrible condition. I have seen some framed buildings, they just are not even safe enough to walk in. They are just sagging. We all have to be happy that we saved this great little building because it is wonderful. In the little town, that we are in, the Town of Trenton, there are some wonderful [buildings], all the villages are from the early 1800s to the mid-1800s.

We and have some wonderful churches, and in Holland Patent there is a wonderful railroad station used as a community hall and then there are some natural areas [with], waterfalls, streams, little lakes and some historical places. A Revolutionary War hero, Baron Von Steuben was given land for his work that he did in the Revolutionary War. He is buried nearby. All these sites, would make a wonderful driving tour, you know? Between the architectural, the natural, the historical, and even geological formations. Make a great little tourist, driving tour.

If I can find someone, we will make it another project. Tourism is a big business and when you have just a little bit of guidance makes it even better. You drive down the road at fifty miles an hour and do not even know what you are driving by. Would it not be nice to know, you know?

Is there anything else you would like to share?

[START OF TRACK, 3 00:00]

I would like to say that I am here with Colin Havener, a student at the Graduate Program at Cooperstown, with the College of Oneonta. It is a wonderful project. Preservation and history, it is all part of us. In thanking, thank the school, Colin, and the program they have. It is preservation at its best. Thank you.

Thank you, Chris.


30:00 - Track 1
30:00 - Track 2
00:54 - Track 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 17:00 – Winslow Homer
Track 1, 21:00 - Woodfloor
Track 1, 26:00 - Wood Lath
Track 1, 29:00 - Four Panel Door
Track 2, 10:15 - Restoration
Track 2, 12:47 Friends
Track 2, 13:55 Repointing
Track 2, 17:44 Future Of The Space
Track 2, 20:02 Holland Pattent
Track 2, 23:29 Fundraising
Track 2 25:23 One-Room Schoolhouse


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Colin Havener, “Christopher Kelly, November 07, 2019,” CGP Community Stories, accessed November 29, 2021,