Creswell, Here to Help, Opinion & Editorial

7 years of dedication saved Creswell’s historic schoolhouse, Creswell First! takes it from here

It was one of the first stories I stepped into as a reporter for The Chronicle.

About eight years ago, the Creswell City Council had a tough decision to make. It was under ownership of a dilapidated one-room schoolhouse in the middle of a residential neighborhood. With no capacity to rehab and make use of the building, the City needed to get it off of its hands. It was brought to council with a decision to either surplus or demolish.

But a tiny but mighty group of residents heeded the call before the bulldozer was called in.

Over the weekend, the Creswell Heritage Foundation celebrated the end of a seven-year journey to rehabilitate the historic gem, inviting donors, supporters, and volunteers to enjoy the fruits of their labor during a celebratory open house. The building will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2025 — a milestone that would’ve never been met had it not been for the hard work and determination of Verlean McCoy and her CHF board members. 

Creswell Heritage Foundation hosted an open house at its renovated Old Schoolhouse. ERIN TIERNEY-HEGGENSTALLER / THE CHRONICLE

As a reporter, you never know which articles you pen will stick with you long term. It’s a daily grind, pumping out article after article. While all important, no doubt I’ve long forgotten a heap of my own bylines over the years simply because I don’t have the capacity to catalog it all. It’s a weird phenomenon journalists sometimes face.

But I’ve never forgotten about the Old Schoolhouse. Shortly after that city council meeting, I remember sitting casually on the lip of a sidewalk near Holt Park, eating a Tillamook marionberry greek yogurt (an Oregon brand I was enamored with after coming from the East Coast), thinking about the possible fates of the Old Schoolhouse. 

It had already lived such a robust life.

According to local historians, Creswell’s first schoolhouse was built in 1875 on the northeast corner of Oregon Avenue and South 5th Street. At the time, it was two stories and 30 students. In 1897, the building sold and moved to 195 S. 2nd St., where it remains today. 

From then on, the building was used for myriad reasons. Local historians believe it was bought at an auction for $400 to be used as a meeting hall from 1897-1910 before being turned into a Baptist church. 

What happened to the second floor of the building is a bit of an enigma, but a report from a local historian in 1964 suggested that the Baptist church took off the second story, added a steeple, and “made themselves a church.” It was also used by the Red Cross during World War I. 

The Creswell Civic Improvement Club swooped in and bought the building in 1927, where it was used for several community enhancement projects before being turned into a library from 1980 until 2005 — the last true use of the building. The building became a branch of the Lane County Library Association, providing services six days a week. The Club deeded the building to the City in 1980.

In 2004, citizens created a tax-supported library district and it moved to its new home on Oregon Avenue in 2006, where it sits today, leaving the Old Schoolhouse empty for some time.

It sat vacant until 2017, until Creswell Heritage Foundation was formed, launching its “Save the Old Schoolhouse” campaign. From there, stabilization of the building kicked off. The City transferred ownership of the building to CHF in 2018, gifting the foundation with $50,000 to kick off its restoration efforts.  

And off they went. 

Seven years and $365,000 later, the Old Schoolhouse is restored to its former glory. 

A new foundation and porch were built in 2019. A new roof was built on the back room in 2020, and in 2020-21, the exterior was restored. One of the last legs was the interior restoration in 2022-’23, and this year, the project wrapped up with fresh landscaping. 

Over the years, I’ve never forgotten the tenacity of Verlean and her volunteers, heeding a call and investing so much of their time, energy, and passion into a building no one had any love for anymore. Like a grape withering on a vine, the Old Schoolhouse could have easily been plucked from Creswell’s landscape, with only murmurs left to linger of the “old schoolhouse that used to be here.” 

I think there’s so much beauty in people who rise to a call they didn’t have to heed, taking on a cause that no one claimed ownership of. No doubt it was a headache at times. No doubt the volunteers could have spent their free time doing, well, anything else instead. But they chose to dive in and commit to a project that links the past to the present, a project that benefits the community as a whole.

CHF over the weekend transferred the ownership of the Old Schoolhouse to Creswell First! Community Foundation. Better suited to help fund its future, Creswell First! will provide the management and stewardship for its new life as a community meeting place and venue.

Meanwhile, Creswell Heritage Foundation continues on with other activities and projects in the community, with the steadfast aim to “enrich the lives of current and future generations by protecting and preserving Creswell’s physical and cultural heritage.”

I can’t wait to see what both nonprofits get into next. 

Erin Tierney-Heggenstaller is the executive editor of The Chronicle. She can be reached at [email protected] 



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