The One-Room Schoolhouses of the Past and Present – Update #8

Living among the Amish for our entire lives, perhaps we have taken for granted the daily scenes before us which carry the echoes of life long ago. Today, the Amish children still walk to and from school daily, toting their lunch pails and talking together as they make their way to and from their small schoolhouses. Of course, things have changed for many of the Amish as well. Some of the students ride their bikes or drive their pony carts to and from their school, which may have several classrooms within. Despite those changes, the Amish retain the same principles of schooling as was embraced by the entire country only 150 years ago. Small schoolhouses were built every few miles, so students did not have to walk far. The schoolhouse was used as a hub as the community. It was a place for local families to come together for pie socials or box socials to help raise money for their schoolhouse, families took turns providing the wood or coal for the potbelly stove, a local family even sometimes housed the teacher in their home for the school term. People gathered at the schoolhouses for meetings to make decisions about their town or local area. Miriam C. Hunter writes, “One of the most important contributions of the one-room school was its unifying force to community life. Here government, crops, etc., as well as social life, was had in the days when communication and transportation were very limited. Meetings at the schoolhouse overcame both.” [1]

Even though there are dozens of one- and two-room schoolhouses still dotting the hills and valleys of our local area, they are strictly for the Amish and run by the Amish. There are several church-run private schools that are open to many students, but they do not extend admission to students with special needs and or developmental and learning delays. In their polite declining of admission for our children, who all have Down syndrome, we were told they are not equipped to meet their needs. I understand that. I also know that becoming equipped to teach students for whom academic skills may take a bit longer to grasp is not a long process. It is not a difficult process; it is simply a matter of wanting to and then doing it. Thankfully, homeschooling has been a great blessing to our family. It is something we all enjoy and have been very content with for many years. But our kids are now getting older, and they long for friendships, for activity outside of our home, and the chance to stretch their wings.

Re-building two historic one-room schoolhouses in our front pasture is not something Marlin or I would have dreamed would be possible a few years ago. As much as we admire Rory Feek and as much as we were both touched and inspired by the schoolhouse he built on his farm, we didn’t think this was something we could do. We tamped the dream under a few layers of reality and topped the pile with a sprinkling of excuses. We scaled back our thinking, and I began to make plans for a co-op. In the meantime, I was also researching the history of the one-room schoolhouse in our and neighboring counties, and then we found the second schoolhouse, and the dream of building our own buoyed up through all we had tried to shove it under to face us front and center. Marlin and I were both determined to save the schoolhouse. And not just to save it but to restore it to its original purpose. Our hopes to find photos and history of the building to be able to restore it accurately were dashed fairly quickly since the township of its original location had no records or information about the schoolhouse or what had become of it after the school was closed. However, we have a great deal of history from schoolhouses built in the same time period and relative locations, and from that, we can piece together some accurate estimations.

One-room schoolhouses were often referred to by number. Each number represented a district within a township. On average, there were 8 to 10 schoolhouses (districts) in each township. The schools were often renamed or referred to according to the last name of the family whose farm the schoolhouse was built on, or it was given a name after a feature near the schoolhouse. Some of the schools from the country from which our smaller schoolhouse came are Broomstick, Mudd, Hazel Glen, Lookout, Harmony, Bacon Run, Trio, Salt Works, Grapevine, Low Gap, Soggy Hill, Moss Hollow, Rocky Dale, to name a few. I love those names! When we were thinking about what to name our schoolhouse, it was important to us to choose something which has meaning to our area and isn’t just a pretty name. The Juneberry, or Service Berry, trees that graced our hilltop were by far the most unique thing to us when we moved here. We had never heard of or seen anything like them, and I, of course, had to read up about them to learn more. They are beautiful trees, and every spring, they usher in springtime and draw the mockingbirds, orioles, and cedar waxwings like clockwork.

There were also smaller “subscription” schools started by pioneer families in the 1800s. If their farms were equal distance between two schoolhouses and they didn’t want their children to have to walk that farm, sometimes families would go together with 1-2 of their neighbors, put up a small building, hire a teacher, and split the cost of everything into equal shares. This way, siblings and neighbors were also classmates and playmates. I like to think our first schoolhouse, the small one, was a subscription school. There is a place just inside the door patched with wood where I imagine the potbelly stove sat. And while it isn’t large, if students were sitting two per desk, ten to twelve students plus a teacher’s desk or podium would have fit comfortably in the building. The classrooms of today with all the extra “stuff” make it hard to imagine. But delving into history, one can see quickly schoolhouses had few books, a few slates, and desks, and that was about the extent of the contents.

Marlin and I recently joined the Country School Association. This is a non-profit organization made up of individuals who love, own, work in, or are in the process of restoring one-room schoolhouses. The group has members who work in historically accurate schoolhouses to offer tours to schools or groups to give them a chance to experience what it was like to go to school 150-175 years ago. Some members are working to save old schoolhouses in their area, which are falling or under threat of demolition (as our second schoolhouse was). I think it is so important that people remember and preserve what education looked like in the past.

We are reimagining education for our family and for other children within our local community who are not Amish. We want to resurrect the one-room schoolhouse as a place where siblings and neighbors learn together as classmates. Where the reading, writing, and math concepts learned inside the classroom are incorporated and put into practical life lessons in the gardens and barnyard outside of the schoolhouse. This is a gentle approach to education where students can learn at their own pace and where learning through play and exploration is honored. We want our schoolhouse to be a place where people from the community become teachers for an afternoon and where the kids all work together on projects. We will indeed be growing faith, friendships, and a love for learning and doing so surrounded by garden boxes and chickens, sunshine, and fresh air.

If you would like to be a part of helping Juneberry Hill Schoolhouse in our vision to rebuild history and reimagine education, please visit our website

May you find joy in the simple things in life,


[1] Miriam C. Hunter The One-Room Schools of Coshocton County, Ohio Braun-Brumfield, Inc. Ann Arbor Michigan, 1974, foreward.


Exciting Steps in the Building Process – Update #9

Exciting Steps in the Building Process – Update #9

The juneberry tree in our backyard is in full bloom, as are some exciting steps in the building process! We are happy to announce that the IRS determination letter has been received and Juneberry Hill Schoolhouse is an officially approved 501(c)3 nonprofit...

May, 2023

May, 2023

ONE MINUTE WITH MARLIN   Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an event featuring a visual artist I have come to appreciate very much. Makoto Fujimura shared of kintsugi, a 15th-century practice of mending broken tea bowls with a lacquer mixed with powdered...

Fundraising for Hayes

Fundraising for Hayes

Hayes is a delightful 2-year-old who is described as cute and clever. His absolute favorite activity is to swing on the swing set. Hayes is learning to call out to his on-site family care mom and dad when he needs their attention. They lavish the praise on him when he...