CASCO — When a fire gutted the old schoolhouse this April, it also extinguished the local historical society’s plan to move the nearly 170-year-old building next to a museum on Route 302.
Now, the Raymond-Casco Historical Society is charging ahead with a new plan to build a replica of the old schoolhouse next to the museum.
Society member Skip Watkins, who owns the 18-acre property, said he deeded the roughly 10-year-old museum to the society and has finalized a 99-year lease for the schoolhouse replica at no cost to the organization.
“It’s a gift,” said Watkins, 77, who has lived in Casco his entire life. He said his ancestors helped found the town.
“It was a sad day when the original one got burnt,” he said.
Two young men were charged in the blaze.
The school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Friends Meetinghouse. It was built in 1849 on Quaker Ridge. Originally known as the Friends School House, it was later known as the Quaker Ridge School House and eventually given to the Raymond-Casco Historical Society in the 1970s. It was moved to Casco Village behind the town library.
“The old school meant a lot to a lot of people,” Watkins said. “Our intentions are to put it back to as close to original as we can.”
A 20- by 30-foot concrete slab has been poured and a mix of pine and hemlock lumber harvested from Watkins’ land is stacked next to it ready for the framing.
Historical Society member Jean LaBrecque of Raymond said the goal is to get the building framed this summer and fall, sealed up by winter, and to finish interior work next year.
The building will have a metal roof, vinyl siding and the granite steps from the original building. It will have the “exact dimensions” of the old schoolhouse, LaBrecque said.
The bulk of the project costs are being supported by two sources at little to no cost to the historical society: the insurance settlement from the fire, and $18,000 approved by Casco voters at the annual town meeting in June, she said.
LaBrecque said the excavation work at the site was done by Watkins’ son Pete and the elder Watkins has “donated a good part of what’s going on here.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty much involved,” Watkins said, laughing.
Watkins said his support for historical society comes in part from “a lot of respect for all those who came before me,” and because he thinks his ancestors would be “very happy” that the family property now provides a home for the society.
“I have so much respect for the society and the people involved in it,” he said. “I’m certainly very happy and satisfied with the whole operation.”
He said one of the joys of sharing his family’s land, where he still lives, with the museum is seeing people from outside of town “come back to dig up some of their roots” by going through the museum records.
He’s seen people leave teary-eyed after discovering information about their family, he said.
“You can’t put a price tag on something like that,” said Watkins, who doesn’t plan to live anywhere else and will leave the town “only when they throw dirt in my face.”
He hopes the new schoolhouse can help give young people an understanding of how the world used to be.
“One of my greatest wishes is that this will expand for future generations,” he said.
Watkins and LaBrecque emphasized that the schoolhouse project has been a combined effort among many historical society members and other supporters.
Watkins said Chaplin Logging donated services to harvest the timber from his land, and LaBrecque said Phil Shane poured the concrete slab.
A relatively new society member and former English teacher and librarian in the Bonny Eagle school district, LaBrecque hopes to “keep the ongoing progress of the replica in front of people” because there will be fundraising efforts to support purchase of items for the interior of the building, such as historically appropriate desks.
“Once this is completed, maybe a teacher like Jean might hold a class here again some day,” Watkins said. He also reflected on how something that is here today can be gone tomorrow.
“This is going to be here forever, I hope,” Watkins said. “We don’t know where we’re going, but it’s nice to know where you came from.”
The Raymond-Casco Historical Society has started building a replica of the old schoolhouse that was torched in Casco village in April. The replica is being built on land donated by Skip Watkins on Route 302. (Matt Junker/The Forecaster)
The old Casco schoolhouse, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was torched in April. (The Forecaster file photo)