ROJAC working on schoolhouse renovationsDecember 3, 2020
By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
JASPER — When Dave Buehler, president of the The Redevelop Old Jasper Action Coalition, imagines the finished Alexander Schoolhouse along the Jasper riverfront, he sees students from not only Jasper but from all over the area on field trips learning about the history of one-room schoolhouses.
He imagines a video of a teacher from the late 19th century showing the modern-day students what school used to be.
“She’ll be saying things like, ‘Charlie you bring in the firewood, Nancy you bring in the water from the well, we’re going to the outhouse at 10,’ things like that,” Buehler said.
Named after the Alexander descendants of the Kellams family, the schoolhouse was built in 1820 and was one of the three original schools in Dubois County. After the school burned in 1915, the new school was built in 1918.
ROJAC selected the Alexander Schoolhouse for its project and moved it in spring 2017 from the Kellams’ family farm south of Ireland to its current location along the Jasper riverfront. Buehler said the current schoolhouse had to be cut into pieces to transport down the highway.
Then came the renovations, which were put on hold back in 2018 after the exterior was finished. Now, ROJAC has revived the project and is working on interior features, such as audio and video displays.
Back in the early 19th century, nearly 115 one-room schoolhouses were spread throughout Dubois County. Most students didn’t have any form of transportation, so they had to walk to school every day — that’s why there were so many schools, Buehler said.
The schools mostly consolidated after Indiana became a state, but it’s important for students nowadays to learn how kids their age used to live and how far society has come, Buehler said.
“It’s important to see where we come from,” he said. “Things pass by and they’re not taught in school so much. Like with World War II, you learn about it in school, but you don’t really learn that much about it until you read a book or watch a movie about it.”
The schoolhouse will also honor George and Margaret Wilson. The siblings were teachers and historians and played a major part in building Dubois County’s school systems in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
ROJAC plans to open the schoolhouse in the spring of 2021, Buehler said.
ROJAC formed in 2003 to develop the area along the Patoka River, building economic development through tourism. While the coalition isn’t working on the schoolhouse, it’s brainstorming other ideas on how to continue to improve the city, Buehler said.
Its most recent project was the refurbishing of the stone near the riverwalk that reads “Old Jasper.” The stone used to be so dirty it was basically black, Buehler said, and the coalition wanted to make it look nice, especially because it’s near the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center, which will be opening soon.
Buehler said the coalition hopes to partner with the cultural center for the schoolhouse and other projects down the road.
“We can’t quite fathom how great the cultural center is going to be,” he said.
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