Editor’s note: May is National Historic Preservation Month. The Creswell Heritage Foundation offers a column on the topic each week.
In 1927, the Creswell Civic Improvement Club (CCIC) bought the building on the NW corner of south 2nd and D Streets from the Oregon Baptist Society. The Club had organized in 1913 as an affiliate of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs and needed its own meeting place. Their first project was to make major renovations to the building, including the addition of a kitchen and bathroom. A framed list of those who donated time and materials hung in the kitchen until recently when it was removed and put in storage until the current restoration project is done. The list helps date some of the features and furnishings that still remain.
The CCIC housed a lending library as one of its many projects. Over time, the Club membership diminished until just maintaining the building and the library became the main focus of its efforts. In 1978 they joined forces with the Lane County Library to use the library as part of a demonstration project to bring library service to rural Lane County. Soon after, the Club disbanded and deeded the building to the City of Creswell, which permitted its continued use as part of the demonstration project. In 1988, when the county voters did not support the continuation of rural library service, the local library continued anyway, run and manned by volunteers. In 2004 Creswell voters passed a measure to form a local tax-supported library and in 2006 the library moved to its current location.
What was to become of the old building now? It was already 131 years old and showing its age. In 2009 Carol Campbell, Bill McCoy, LaVae Robertson, Sharyn Viel and Marge Williamson created the Save the Schoolhouse Committee to explore what could be done. They applied for and received listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The upper story had long been used by bats, but they had to be excluded to make restoration of the building possible. A large oak tree had been planted decades ago, but its roots were now causing the building to warp. A long unused chimney in the upper level needed to be removed. The group accomplished all of this before health and family issues and the economic downturn of that time resulted in their disbanding in 2011. The building remained vacant.
In 2015 the City revisited the question of what to do with the building. They did not have a need that would justify spending the time and resources to make it usable again. The Creswell Heritage Foundation (CHF) organized to take up the challenge. In 2018 the City of Creswell transferred ownership to the group and CHF began fundraising for the restoration project. In 2019, a new solid foundation was constructed to replace the rock and beam foundation which had failed on the south side. In 2020, the south side siding was replaced, the west side repaired, 8 windows restored and a small back room was reroofed to accommodate a new bathroom. Currently, fundraising efforts are directed to finishing the exterior in 2021 and the interior in 2022. The building would then be available for public use in 2023. There will still be landscaping and an ADA ramp to be completed. The challenge to fundraising for restoration now is that potential funds are being directed instead to the greater needs of those challenged by wildfire and COVID. Being optimistic, Creswell Heritage Foundation is planning to have a grand opening and celebration in 2025, which will be the 150th anniversary of the old schoolhouse.
Readers can contact the CHF at [email protected] to receive occasional updates on the project. CHF is also on Facebook at creswellheritagefoundation and the web at creswellheritagefoundation.org. The mailing address is P.O. Box 1092, Creswell, OR 97426. Phone: 541-895-3726.
Verlean McCoy is President of Creswell Heritage Foundation.