The Old Schoolhouse

The summer of 1999 was typically warm for the four women who began restoration of the one-story frame building east of the barn. Despite the conditions, the four made great progress in making sense of a long forgotten shed that had fallen into disrepair. The students were part of Randolph Community College's Historic Preservation Technology program, which teaches students how to understand, appreciate and manage historic sites such as Mendenhall Plantation.

 

The substantial timber frame construction used for the building indicated a structure built to last. Ordinarily, an agricultural building of this small size would be of much flimsier construction. In addition, the open beams of the ceiling were finished with a bead, a feature reserved for the finest buildings in central North Carolina. The 1820 Jamestown Indulged Meetinghouse across the street, for example, sports beaded ceiling beams as well.

 

Three windows could also be picked out from the placement of jambs and wall studs, and archaeology hinted at the existence of a fireplace on the gable wall, long ago removed. Finally, the extended ceiling joists, beyond the face of the exterior walls indicated that the building once has a handsome high pitch roofline, in keeping with other buildings in and around Mendenhall Plantation. These clues and others led students to believe that the building was built around 1825 for a very noble use such as a store, office, or school.

 

The students recorded the building as they found it, and set about developing plans for its resurrection. Using circular saws, hand saws and jacks, they constructed stone piers to support a new floor system on which to place the old frame. Lifting the building nearly five feet on cribbing proved challenging and a bit risky, but plans paid off as the building was lowered onto a new and secure foundation. The students harvested cedar poles from the nearby woods to fashion rafters for the restored roofline, and looked with pride at their accomplishment at the end of the summer when class was over.

 

Completing the project were dedicated trustees and volunteers, who expertly placed clapboards on the exterior, reset the windows, and masterfully assembled a wood shingle roof as would have been on the building originally. Today, the house stands tall and proud, much as it might have looked when built 175 years ago.

 

Mendenhall Plantation - 603 W. Main Street - Jamestown, NC

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