The North Bend Eagle

Inside the school house
Ron and Wendi Emanuel stand in the middle of the school house they renovated last winter.

Old school house learns new lessons

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 2/22/12

It’s a good thing Ron and Wendi Emanuel like old buildings. Their farmstead north of North Bend is full of old buildings.

They have renovated an old building for each of the last three winters. Last winter it was the old school house. The winter before, it was the old barn, and the winter before that they renovated an old chicken coop. The old buildings have each found a new use - the chicken coop is a woodworking shop and the barn stores Wendi’s business essentials.

Wendi is the owner of Occasions, a special occasion decorating business. She has also used the school house for her business.

The school house, which formerly housed School District 80, was built back in the day when children walked to school, and there was a school about every two miles. This school building first appeared on the Dodge County census in 1895 with 16 boys and 11 girls attending. The last time it appeared on the census was in 1963. Whether or not the Emanuel building is the original structure is unknown.

How it got to the homestead is also unknown. The Emanuels bought the acreage from Leo and Dorothy Petersen. Leo and his brother, Orvil, had lived and farmed there for many years on a land their father, George Petersen, first moved to in 1929.

It is surmised that the Petersens purchased the building and moved it to their homeplace to use for grain storage in the mid 1960s. A certificate dated Nov. 4, 1968, showed that milo was stored in the school.

When Dorothy Petersen married Leo and moved to the farm in 1978 she just remembers it as a place to store junk. She is very pleased that the Emanuels have restored the buildings.

“Isn’t that great,” Petersen said about the changes to the farm.

The Emanuels moved to the farmstead in 2004. They updated the house first, finding an 1874 newspaper titled The Irish Herald in their bathroom wall.

Last winter they decided it was time to tackle the school house.

“It was structurally sound,” Wendi said, “but a mess.”

With the help of family and friends they totally gutted the building, eliminating the green wallpaper and green paint everywhere. In one wall they found an old bee hive, 11 rows wide and 11 feet tall. The wainscoating had many layers of paint on it, which they planned to strip. Ron went to an auction in Colfax County where there was an old school on newly purchased land. The new owner was going to tear down the building so the Emanuel’s were able to buy the wainscoating, with only varnish on it, and used it in their building.

The windows are the original windows, with grooves and details in the framework. The Emanuels hired out the job of stripping the layers of paint and staining the framework back to its original beauty.

With the help of neighbor Dave Voss, new wiring and light fixtures were installed. The Emanuels tried to stick as close to the original as they could with the replacements.

“We tried not to change the building itself,” Wendi said. "We wanted to save this piece of history.”

The school has seen new usage since the remodeling. It’s been used for family gathering, Easter celebration, a bridal shower and birthday celebrations. Wendi uses it for her business to show engaged couples what she can do with table decorations.

Unfortunately, it does not have plumbing so the building is not open for public use.

“I’m very glad we did it,” Ron said. “Mostly because of the usage we get out of it. I like keeping, reusing older buildings.”

Wendi agrees with her husband about their fondness of old buildings.

The Emanuels aren’t the only ones in the neighborhood undertaking restoration projects.

Just down the road from the Emanuels, Steve Arneal has started fixing up the 1888 red and white striped barn located on Highway 79 five miles north of North Bend.

The crumbling foundation has been replaced and the roof repaired. There are plans to paint the barn next summer. A web site, is in the process of being built.

“The barn has potential,” Arneal said. “We’re looking into possibilities so that the community can take advantage of this piece of history.”

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