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Hans Bergmann
Residents of Mount Washington in front of the town's North Schoolhouse discuss moving it to a new location.

Saving the last schoolhouse in the Berkshires’ smallest town

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By Friday, Mar 29, 2019 Life In the Berkshires 13

Mount Washington — The smallest town in Berkshire County is roiled. School always gets people involved in politics but, in Mount Washington, it’s the schoolhouse itself—the 151-year-old schoolhouse. In the 19th century, the town’s population was double the present 170, and there were three one-room schoolhouses, known by their locations: the South Schoolhouse became a private house years ago, the Crossroads Schoolhouse was taken down, but the North Schoolhouse still stands.

And it’s the North Schoolhouse that has gripped the town’s imagination. Neglected and unused, it sits on West Street, too close to the edge of the road with no parking, absorbing the flow of water down the hill behind it. It is, in other words, doomed to rot if it stands where it is.

So if rotting isn’t an option, what else can be done? The building could be moved. There’s a site at the town center; the church and the Town Hall, the only public buildings, are across from land the town owns, and the schoolhouse could be moved there to stand on a new foundation, refurbished yet unchanged.

The North Schoolhouse edited into its possible new location in the Mount Washington town center. Photo: Sarah Kenyon

The interior is perfectly intact and, according to several historical building consultants, in wonderful shape. Its current-day educational potential is unmatched. Imagine a group of today’s third-graders sitting at the old desks, looking out the multi-paned windows and asking questions about long-ago students.

The move would be expensive. Power lines would have to be held high, and the new fiber optic cables the town prides itself on would have to move temporarily, too. The foundation would have to be built, and perhaps a room below the building where some of the documents and records that now overflow Town Hall could be stored. There are contemporary building codes that apply: disabled access, elaborate septic field, distance from a wetland.

Hans Bergmann is president of the Mount Washington Historical Society, the group that has brought the North Schoolhouse to the town’s attention. Members of the Society have already pledged over $100,000 toward the move, but the Society needs more. Bergmann said, “No matter how much money is pledged, the town voters will decide whether the Schoolhouse is to be moved.”

An ad hoc committee appointed by the town’s select board is developing a plan to present to the town voters. The committee is sending an informative booklet outlining all options and costs to everyone in town.The committee may not be able to formulate a proposal in time for Annual Meeting in May, but it will happen and, in true small-town fashion, the citizens will come together, argue, discuss and vote.

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13 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Steve Farina says:

    Not being familiar with the site or location, can it simply be raised higher off grade (in place), improve the drainage, and pour a new foundation. Judging from the pictured appearance of the size of the building it would seem to be an option costing less than the $100,000 already secured.

    1. Jim Hall says:

      Agreed. The location, close to the road, was chosen for a reason back when the school was built. We have a one room schoolhouse in Alford (converted to town offices) that is also located very close to the road. Moving it seems unnecessary and contrary to the goal of historical preservation. Its footprint is part of its history. A new foundation, some modest regrading, and some TLC could bring it back. These old buildings are worth preserving. They have soul.

    2. Dan Miller says:

      This was exactly my thought as I read the article. Why move it? Elevate, regrade and a new foundation make much more sense. As a youngster I attended the one room schoolhouse in Alford where we had four grades.

  2. Dianne Salamon says:

    Keep up the good fight MWHS! Good progress in good time.
    Good luck. Dianne

  3. Brian Tobin says:

    Our little town is spending a lot of time researching all the options. Leaving the schoolhouse where it is would mean losing most of the money that has been pledged. Let us figure it out by ourselves, gentlemen, and you all stick with the issues of how to ban bottles and running your town meeting. Good day.

  4. Dan Miller says:

    Territorial comments only? These are just opinions sir, nothing else.

    1. Brian Tobin says:

      The comments so far have demonstrated a clear lack of understanding about why we are considering the move. The remote location of the schoolhouse has resulted in break-ins, vandalism, and theft. The funds that have been pledged for the project are conditioned on moving it to the center of town, where we can keep a collective eye on it. Lastly, we would like to consider how the schoolhouse can become a useful resource for future generations on the mountain.

      Our town is small but fiercely independent, and outsiders’ opinions on how we conduct our affairs are unimportant to us. Thanks, though.

      1. Jim Hall says:

        Wow, you seem a might but testy there, pard. 😉

      2. Rusty Mott says:

        That’s not a chip on your shoulder, that’s a boulder. Why the antagonism towards people whose opinions are both pleasant and altruistic? You are effectively saying Mount Washington is in a bubble where ideas stop at the town line.

  5. Janice Storti says:

    I have lived in Sheffield, Great Barrington, and Housatonic since 1962. Early on I had a tie to a property in Mount
    Washington. I spent many hours in the tiny town enjoying the natural beauty and exploring. I can certainly understand the concerns and suggestions made by people who value antiquity. Once that small school house is gone, that’s the end of it. It can never authentically be brought back. It’s original footprint will be different. I certainly understand Brian Tobin’s comments about how uninformed we non-townspeople are about the problem. What I don’t understand is his attitude. Perhaps he should write an article enlightening his neighbors about this unique situation. They are only trying to help. None of them are vindictive. Although my opinion is clearly not wanted, I agree that for the sake of history that perhaps there is a way to salvage the little school house and keep it where it is if the vandalism could be addressed and stopped. Just thoughts from one who values saving our histories.

  6. Brian Tobin says:

    I’d like to invite anyone interested to tour the school with me. I’ll answer questions, and explain what we’re trying to do. Sorry for my earlier snarkiness!


    1. Rusty Mott says:

      Graciousness becomes you , and it is appreciated.

      1. Brian Tobin says:

        Thanks bud! Come on up!

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