Friday, September 20, 2019

Historic Casco schoolhouse rises from the ashes and now is open to the public

Photo courtesy of Rose Andrews-Symonds
By Walter Lunt

After more than a year of resolute and reverent reconstruction, a replica of Casco’s old Quaker Ridge Schoolhouse, or Friends School, was opened to the public this week on the grounds of the Casco-Raymond Historical Society museum.

Nearly 100 visitors attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the museum complex on Route 302 in Casco. Society curator Rose Andrews-Symonds said she heard the comment “How beautiful” numerous times during the three-hour open house event. Andrews-Symonds, who also curated the original building before it was destroyed by fire in 2018, continued, “It’s quite breathtaking to it see (back) almost in its original state.”

Few who gathered for the occasion failed to notice the front steps. The imposing granite treads seemingly invite the visitor to enter. Some were retrieved from the debris of the former structure, and some were donated by Society member Louise Lester.
Upon entering, just past the cloak room, one knows for sure they are stepping back in schoolhouse time. Rows of old-fashioned desks in long, straight rows await scholars of an earlier day (two of the desks are originals from the old building). Benches, a faded globe outlining countries long ago renamed, an original 1861 wall map of Maine, a standing bookshelf containing atlas’, early grade-readers and other books dated in the 1800s, a large teacher’s desk, an American flag and a wood stove complete the experience.

The old-style interior construction, including walls, trim and floor was completed entirely by Tim Symonds, with assistance from grandson Daniel.

“We’re filled with history,” said Andrews-Symonds, “it’s important to preserve where we’ve been (in order) to know where we’re going.”

The original Quaker Ridge Schoolhouse was built in 1849 on Quaker Ridge Road by the son of a founding settler in what was known as Quaker Hill, or Quakerville. Run by the Society of Friends (Quakers), it operated continuously until 1942, except for the year 1920 when it closed temporarily due to low enrollment. Also, around that time, indoor toilet facilities were added. An open house was held in the 1950s; it was reported that scores of former pupils and teachers attended. 1971 the schoolhouse was acquired by the newly formed Raymond-Casco Historical Society and moved from its prominent perch on Quaker Ridge to a spot next to the fire station in Casco Village. The structure secured a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in the late ‘70s. Long range plans for the building included restoration and moving to the RCHS museum complex on Route 302. That was just about to happen when arsonists destroyed the building last year. Also consumed by the flames were irreplaceable books and documents dating to the 18th century, including an official proclamation announcing the election of George Washington as president. Plans to build the replica in the new location began almost immediately.

Resources for the reconstruction of the Quaker schoolhouse, including money donations and in-kind services, came from dozens of businesses and residents. Andrews-Symonds said the town of Casco, Hancock Lumber (especially employee Bob Thibodeau), and Society members Skip and Zeena Watkins were just a small fraction of the volunteerism and donations received for the project.
Asked how the new schoolhouse would be utilized, Andrews-Symonds said it now becomes a part of the regular tour of the museum complex, which includes three other buildings. She said the museum is now closed for the winter but will open for school groups this fall, adding “It’s important for the kids to understand the progress of life.”

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