Categories: Life & Arts
In its 170th year, the former Center Falls schoolhouse in Greenwich is nearly ready for its first guests.
Though there are no longer rows of desks and chairs, there are still chalkboards on the walls, and while there’s no coal stove in the middle of the floor plan, there’s a 1930s era General Electric Monitor top fridge.
After more than two years of renovating, father-daughter duo Jill and Richard Tefft are putting the last touches on the Washington County schoolhouse, located on Ryan Road, before renting it out to guests on Airbnb.
“Our original goal was we wanted to keep the schoolhouse feel. I think we did that,” Richard said.
The Tefft family’s history with the schoolhouse goes back well before the Teffts bought it in October of 2017. Richard’s father, Richard Tefft Sr., attended school there in the 1940s and their great-grandmother Martha Dewey Tefft attended school there in 1915. Growing up, Jill and her siblings always referred to it as “Gramp’s old school,” and continue to do so today.
During the renovation process, the Teffts discovered old drawings and doodles from Richard Tefft Sr., including one that they believe he drew on one of the window frames.
“Every time we work here we find something new,” Richard told the Gazette back in 2018.
Today, Gramp’s old school has everything a modern home typically has — a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, electricity, wifi, etc. Getting to that point has taken the Teffts on a long and sometimes winding journey. While they had the help of 14 or so contractors, they did much of the work themselves.
“I probably [put in] 1,300 to 1,400 hours here. It was so awesome to get to milestones, like ‘We’ve got electricity,’ then it was heat. Just a few weeks ago we got running water,” Richard said.
Like time stood still
When the Teffts first purchased the building, they could hardly get to the door because it was covered in vegetation. Once they cut that back and got inside, they spent weeks clearing everything out. Some parts of the building were showing their age, with a hole in the floor and the roof, but everything was mostly intact, including old homework and books that students had probably been reading before the schoolhouse closed in the mid-1940s.
“The last day they used it they closed the door with everything in there,” Richard said.
He and Jill carefully went through the debris and salvaged what they could, including the original light fixtures and a table or two, as well as the windows, which are from 1810. They worked with more than a dozen contractors to tackle the task of installing a well and a septic tank, as well as electricity and rebuilding parts of the brick wall that they nearly lost last year.
In March of 2019, they noticed a sudden and large crack in one of the outer brick walls. Luckily, they were able to get a contractor on site to rebuild it. So far, that’s been the only major hiccup and they’ve been able to celebrate several “firsts” for the schoolhouse: the first flushing toilet, the first wifi installation, the first dishwasher, etc.
Throughout the process, people would often come by and ask about the schoolhouse, or they’d have stories from their family’s experiences there. For her records, and for the community’s, Jill documented their progress on a blog (grampsoldschool.com) as well as on Instagram and Facebook.
“People really enjoy it. On Facebook, people will say ‘Oh, my grandmother or grandfather went to school here’ and ‘So and so was the teacher there,’ ” Jill said.
They hoped to complete the project in October of 2019, however, they ended up doing more of the work themselves than they anticipated.
“We were going to hire out to sand the floor and re-poly it and I [ended] up doing that. I was glad I did because it wasn’t that onerous a job and I started finding all the marks of desks bolted to the floor. So then I had to take my time and clean those up,” Richard said.
When they were renovating the bedroom, they decided to loft the space and remove the attic, which had been added as part of an addition to the building in the 1920s.
While cleaning out the attic, they noticed some of the floorboards had writing on them, including initials and dates going back to 1903. They were able to piece together that the boards were originally taken from a shed that was on the property and reused in the attic. They selected some of the most decorated to restore and placed them on the front of the large island in the kitchen. While most boards feature initials, one even has a carved drawing of The Main, a ship dating back from 1884.
“That was one of the design things that I got to pick,” Richard joked.
“Yeah, poor dad. All of his design ideas were shot down except for this one. This was a very good idea. We love how this came out,” Jill said.
Eyeing National Register
Some parts of the schoolhouse look surprisingly modern, like the black and white tiling in the bathroom and the shining stove and dishwasher in the kitchen.
However, the Teffts have kept much of it the same, including the exposed bricks, chalkboards, floors, windows and even the light fixtures.
It’s part of what’s gotten them to the final stages of getting on the National Register of Historic Places. They currently have conditional approval and will have to wait until the completion of the renovation to seek final approval and get on the register and receive tax credits.
In the next week, during the last phases of the project, they’ll paint the trim in the living room, which includes a new couch and a table that’s original to the schoolhouse. They’ll also decorate with a few family photos, including one showing Richard Tefft Sr. in front of the schoolhouse when he was a boy.
They’ve already got the rental listed on Airbnb and are opening it to guests starting in March. They decided to list it on the site rather than entering into a long-term lease for a few key reasons.
Jill, who lived in North Carolina for nearly 10 years before moving back, knows from experience that finding a hotel to stay at in Greenwich is difficult.
“There [are] no chain hotels in Washington County . . . if you’re here for a family event in Greenwich, there’s just nowhere to stay,” Jill said.
“We wanted to be able to visit it after we had put so much work into it and bringing it back to how it looked we wanted to be able to check on it,” Jill said.
Beyond renting it out, they also plan to hold an open house so community members can see the “new” old schoolhouse.
“We’re waiting until spring when we can do a little more work outside. . . . When we can do a little more landscaping and the weather is better we’ll have an open house. We’re still figuring out what that will look like . . . but we will. The whole point is to share it. We’re so excited to have it and we know that people in the community are really excited to see it as well. So we want to share it,” Jill said.
Though they’re excited to welcome their first guests, the end of the renovation also brings a bit of melancholy with it.
“I’ll be lost on the weekends, but I can find something else to do. Glad to have it done. I’ve been here almost every weekend for the last two years, [actually] since October 2017,” Richard said.
While they’re still putting the final touches on the schoolhouse, the two are already looking into their next project, though perhaps that will arise after a much-deserved vacation.