Fine old rural Iowa school buildings generally run out of luck when declining population forces consolidation, students are moved elsewhere --- and doors are locked.
That hasn't been the case with the Williamson School, fortunately, so it was fun to drive out with others from Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street late Thursday morning for a ribbon-cutting at the Slykhuis Twilight Tearoom.
Those in the ribbon-cutting photo are (from left) Linda Baynes, director of Lucas County Volunteer Services; Scott McLin, Mosaic; Teresa Buckalew, who works at the tearoom; Kris Patrick, Main Street coordinator for Chamber/Main Street; Tina Slykhuis, who with her husband owns building and business; and Courtney Geesaman and Jessica Travis, both of U.S. Bank. I joined the crew after taking my own photos.
We then went inside to see the new first-floor tearoom --- probably the most elegant interior ever developed in English Township. The Slykhuis family converted the gymnasium into an events venue a couple of years ago, so the tearoom is the second phase of three-phase plans for the building. In perhaps a year and a half, according to Tina, the second floor will open as a bed and breakfast operation.
Three of the four classrooms on the 1923 building's first floor now flow together into a reception and dining area. Grand opening celebration luncheons continue here from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today and Saturday. If you're interested in more about the business, dining opportunities, services offered and the building, check out the tearoom's Web site, located here.
Here's Tina (left) visiting with Linda in the tearoom's reception area (above) and Teresa visiting with Scott (below). Teresa, by the way, is a cousin. And for all the other Miller cousins out there, here's how it goes: Teresa's mom was Mary Elizabeth (Feight) Buckalew/Hockart; Mary Elizabeth's mother was Mary (Abrahamson) Feight; and Mary's mother was our great-aunt, Cynthia (Miller) Abrahamson.
There's another family connection here, too. The Slykhuis family purchased my grandparents' farm just west of Williamson Pond from my Aunt Marie Miller a year ago, and now live there. They also have a farm near Carlisle and previously, when in Williamson, occuped second-floor quarters in the school.
The Williamson School, built in 1923 to a design by Chariton architect William L. Perkins --- and listed on the National Register of Historic Places --- dates from a time when Williamson was a thriving coal mining town with a population many times the current 150 or so. The gymnasium wing to the east was added in 1929.
As both town and rural population began to decline, so did the number of Williamson students. The Class of 1944 was the last at Williamson High School and, in 1959, Williamson was consolidated into the Chariton Community School District. The Williamson School continued to serve as a district elementary building until 1995, when all students were moved into Chariton and the building was passed to the Williamson Historical Society.
The historical society operated the building as a community center for a time, including a library and museum. When it became impractical to continue that operation, the building was sold. I'm thinking the Slykhuis family are its second private owners, but am not quite sure of that.
Whatever the case, it's wonderful to see that the fine old building continues to be maintained, appreciated --- and used.