Mount Washington wrestles with fate of 1868 schoolhouse

By Kristin Palpini, The Berkshire Eagle

Dianne Salamon, acting president of the Mount Washington Historical Society, stands inside of the town's old schoolhouse. Updates to the schoolhouse, including fixing the foundation, would cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars, Salamon said. In October, the historical society decided to terminate its 45-year lease of the schoolhouse from the town because the volunteer group could not manage the building's serious need of repair.
Dianne Salamon, acting president of the Mount Washington Historical Society, stands inside of the town’s old schoolhouse. Updates to the schoolhouse, including fixing the foundation, would cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars, Salamon said. In October, the historical society decided to terminate its 45-year lease of the schoolhouse from the town because the volunteer group could not manage the building’s serious need of repair.

MOUNT WASHINGTON — The 1868 single-room schoolhouse surrounded by forest on West Street has seen better days.

Peeling mud hives bubble off the original glass windows, and the brown shingled siding slips and slumps in some places. There’s more white paint flakes on the ground than clinging to the trim, and the foundation features deep cracks.

And it’s not clear what the future holds for the schoolhouse, which is on the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s registry of historic places. From the 1950s through the ’90s, the building was used as the town library, which now resides along a wall in the Town Hall.

In October, the Mount Washington Historical Society decided to terminate its 45-year lease of the schoolhouse from the town because the volunteer group could not manage the building’s serious need of repair. The society had leased the building for about three or four years.

“It’s just a monumental task for a small group of people,” said Dianne Salamon, acting president of the historical society. “We had to suck it up and say that we couldn’t do this by ourselves.”

Now, the fate of the schoolhouse is back in the town’s hands. To some in the town of 160 people, the building is beyond saving, but to others, its preservation is a worthwhile link to Mount Washington’s past. The historical society brought in an architectural firm to survey the building and estimate repairs. Updates, including fixing the foundation, would cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars, Salamon said.

“Initially, I was inclined to put money toward it, but now I don’t know where this leaves us,” said Select Board member Gail Garrett. “Some people think it would be throwing good money after bad; it’s a lot of money.”

Inside the schoolhouse on a recent visit, it was cold and drafty. The building’s wood stove was removed years ago, but most of the facility’s other equipment was left behind, including school desks, chalkboards, lots of books and the teacher’s desk.

Mount Washington resident Margaret “Peggy” Whitbeck’s late husband, Jim, was the last student to attend the school, in 1942, she said.

“The teacher was here for another few months to see if anyone would come, but you know,” she says trailing off.

When books were being moved in the old schoolhouse, a volunteer found a homework assignment Jim had completed for a geography class. Whitbeck said she remembers when the town had two schoolhouses, the North Schoolhouse and the South Schoolhouse (which was renovated into a home), and students would attend whichever school wasn’t in need of repair at the time.

“I don’t know what [the school] means to the town, except to the people that were here before — and there aren’t too many of those people left.”

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