An Old Schoolhouse Converted Into a Home

Ultimate salvaging: a schoolhouse becomes a home.

In the heart of the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont sat an old, one-room schoolhouse, closed up for perhaps 30 years. It was August, a beautiful time of year in the Green Mountain State. The schoolhouse was for sale, and I bought it in that fall of 1983. The town has no record of the construction date, but from what I could find, it was probably built by French–Canadian craftsmen around 1920.

My aim was to renovate the schoolhouse into an energy-efficient, three-bedroom, two-bath home that could be used year-round. To save money, I would do most of the work myself; I was trained as a civil engineer. I drew up 20 pages of architectural plans showing structural aspects of the existing building and a plan for restoration. I’d renovate one project at a time. If I thought too far ahead, I’d be overwhelmed.

The owner has collected local antiques for many years. (Photo by Carolyn Bates)
One project was construction of a hearth for the woodstove and two firewood bins. The owner bought used bricks for five cents apiece, and carefully mortared them in place. Behind the stove, the boys’ bathroom is still in the same place. (Photo by Carolyn Bates)

First, I needed a new concrete foundation. Using floor jacks, I lifted the building a few inches. A bulldozer removed the old foundation and a new one was poured. Before the sills were firmly bolted to the foundation, I worried the schoolhouse might topple over, but it stood steady.

I used original materials to keep costs down, restoring doors and windows, casings, baseboards, and wainscoting. Some pieces went back where they’d been, others met the needs of newly constructed rooms. To the left of the woodstove, an elevated stage where students used to perform adds interest.

I built a post-and-beam sleeping loft on the main floor, using hand-hewn beams purchased from a local farmer. The rock-maple floor on the main level was in fine condition and came back to its original honey color with a little sanding and four coats of clear polyurethane. I restored the cupola on the roof and installed a large school bell inside. The bell rope hangs down to the main floor. The roofing is new.

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By Jerry Johnson, East Albany, Vermont
Photography by Carolyn L. Bates Photography