BROWNINGTON, Vt. (AP) — With dozens of oxen leading the way, a historic schoolhouse has been relocated to the original spot where a prominent African-American scholar and legislator was once its schoolmaster.
For decades, the Orleans County Grammar School served as a Grange hall in Brownington, a hilltop village near the Canadian border. But town officials decided they wanted to move the 30-by-40-foot white clapboard-sided house a third of a mile up the road to restore the village’s historic district to its 19th-century condition.
The 105-ton timber-frame school building was moved Monday up a hill by an engine on the back of a barge-like rolling platform that filled both lanes of the narrow country road. The 44 oxen, well, they were there more for show and to give the 900 or so onlookers a feel of what it might have been like to move the house back in the day.
“We were going to let the oxen take it if they could and help them out if they needed it,” said Peggy Day Gibson, director of the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington. “So we’re doing this for show, and we’re doing it for fun, and we’re doing it to get the community involved.”
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The schoolhouse, first relocated in 1869 to be closer to the town center, is now back at the small hilltop campus where Alexander Twilight opened it in 1823 and was its schoolmaster. Twilight is the town’s central historical figure and was the first African-American to graduate from an American college or university, getting a degree from Middlebury College.
The impetus for the move came two years ago, when the town was told it could no longer get insurance for a building without indoor plumbing or a modern heating system. Residents voted to offer the building to the Orleans County Historical Society, which oversees the Brownington historic district.
Besides the engine pushing the schoolhouse up the hill, utility crews lowered power lines and communications cables so the 34-foot-high building could have clearance.
The event appeared better attended than organizers hoped.
“We should be selling T-shirts,” said Brownington resident Dawn Perry, who suggested the shirts might say, “I was there for the second moving of the schoolhouse.”
Caught up in the might-have-been entrepreneurial spirit, her husband, Everett “Sonny” Perry, surveyed the crowd and replied, “Too bad I wasn’t ready for our yard sale. That would have been good.”
The schoolhouse was placed next to a newly built foundation and will be slid onto that later this week. The foundation will be fronted with slabs of granite, to give it a more historically accurate appearance.
The building is “solid as a rock,” said Bob Hunt, education director for the museum. Once in place, he said, “it should be good for another 200 years.”
Associated Press reporter Holly Ramer contributed to this report.