Creswell’s old schoolhouse has stood at its current location since 1900, but its’ history goes back further.
It was Creswell’s first school when it was built in 1874. Creswell itself had just been platted in 1871 from property donated by two adjoining landowners.
The school was two stories high with one classroom downstairs and one classroom upstairs. Then, in 1876 a fire destroyed the second story. A new roof and attic were put over the first story and the building continued to be used as a school until 1900, when it was sold to the First Baptist Church, who moved it 5 blocks away to its current location. Services were held irregularly and the church was also used for community purposes, such as Red Cross headquarters during World War I.
In 1926 the Oregon Baptist Convention sold the church to the Creswell Civic Improvement Club. The CCIC was affiliated with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Its stated purpose was, “To create sentiment in favor of a clean, sanitary, moral city and to foster a mutual pride in beautifying public and private grounds and furthering all worthwhile community enterprises.” The club members carried out many community-improvement projects, including housing a library for community use.
Over time, club membership dwindled and it became harder for the members to maintain the building. Eventually, the library became the Club’s most important function. In 1979, it became a branch of the Lane County Library Association. Club members and other volunteers provided library service 6 days a week. During this time, the Club itself formally disbanded and deeded the building to the City of Creswell.
The Lane County Library Association did not receive voter support in the 1988 election and was discontinued. However, the Creswell Library continued to operate with volunteers for the next 18 years. In 2004, a tax-supported library district was created and in 2006, the library was moved to a new location. Since then, the building has stood vacant.
Also since then, several groups have worked toward saving the building. The Creswell Civic Improvement Club Second Generation, CCIC2, accomplished applying for and receiving listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Save the Schoolhouse Committee accomplished bat abatement, removing the precariously tilting old chimney, and dealing with a tree and other vegetation threatening the foundation. Committee member’s health and family concerns and the changing economic environment resulted in the end of the groups efforts in 2011.
In 2016, the Creswell City Council received an estimate of repairs needed to make the old schoolhouse usable. They determined that they did not have an end use for the building that would justify the expense of repair. They scheduled a vote to declare the building surplus. At that point, a group of citizens requested that the vote be postponed to allow them time to pursue finding funding and a use. The reprieve was granted.
Out of this beginning, the Creswell Heritage Foundation was organized.
The mission of the Creswell Heritage Foundation is “To collaborate within our community to enrich the lives of current and future generations by protecting and preserving Creswell’s physical and cultural heritage.” The first goal of the CHF is to restore Creswell’s old schoolhouse.
Since its formation, CHF has obtained tax-exempt 501(c)(3) determination. It has applied for and received grants from the Kinsman Foundation and the Preservation Trust toward funding a study by an historical architect. Another grant request to the Oregon Cultural Trust is pending. It is hoped that the architectural study will be completed by October 2017. With that information in hand, a public awareness and fund-raising campaign will be conducted to generate support and funds for starting the hands-on restoration.
The challenge CHF currently faces is determining a sustainable use for the restored building. CHF can only carry the restoration so far before that question must be answered. The board has made presentations to the local Kiwanis and the local Chamber of Commerce, as well as reaching out to individuals and other local groups for their ideas and suggestions. Optimally, a community group would come forward to say they want to use the restored building and will partner with CHF in the project. Or perhaps a group that does not currently have a base in Creswell could see an opportunity for locating here. Maybe the best use is to lease the building to a business that will benefit Creswell. The answer seems elusive, but is out there. CHF will continue to solicit public input in the coming months.
Whatever its use, the restored building will be as asset to the community, the county and beyond. It will be a tangible link between the past and the future.
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