I’ve got a thing for old buildings — starting with the one I call home.

As any visitor during the last 10 years will tell you, a tour of our circa 1790 abode in Buxton’s Bar Mills village invariably ends in the attic.

There, I stand beneath the post-and-beam construction and proudly point to a hand-carved peg still holding two rafters together as if they were one.

“See that?” I ask, touching the centuries-old joinery. “When that peg was driven into that hole, John Adams was president.”

Invariably, my guests shake their heads in wonder. Then, as if by reflex, they reach up and touch it. Thus it should come as no surprise that when my phone rang last week and Jan Hill, president of the Buxton-Hollis Historical Society was on the line, I sat up and took notice.

Much to my relief, Hill wasn’t calling about those beyond-repair clapboards I pried off the front of my place last fall and will replace — I promise! — sometime this spring.


Rather, she wanted to know if I’d heard what was going on with another building — the one that abuts my backyard.

“Ummm … tell me more,” I replied. (My way of saying I hadn’t a clue.)

I knew the 100-year-old wooden structure had served for years as headquarters for School Administrative District 6. And that last fall, SAD 6 moved its offices into the adjacent Eliza Libby School, which closed last May after the new Buxton Center Elementary School opened in another part of town.

All of which I’d filed under “time marches on.”

But I didn’t know that the now-empty wooden building, erected way back in 1912 as the Bar Mills Elementary School, suddenly finds itself on borrowed time.

Barring a last-minute miracle, the stately old structure soon could be, well, history.


Big deal? It is to people like Hill. “It matters,” she said. “Because it’s important for people to value their heritage and the significance of their historic buildings.”

The same story plays out year after year in out-of-the-way villages all over Maine: An old public building that’s been around forever finally outlives its usefulness. Elected officials — in this case, the SAD 6 board of directors — find themselves squeezed hard by ever-shrinking budgets and decide to sell it. Or, failing that, they simply tear it down.

And just like that, in the blink of an eye, a community loses a window to its past, a living reminder of how we got here from there.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m the first to say the SAD 6 directors were only doing their job, and a thankless one at that, when they decided last week to put the old school on the market for three months at a price to be determined by an appraiser — with the stipulation that the buyer immediately move it elsewhere.

And assuming nobody’s crazy enough to try such a thing and the school district goes with Plan B — demolish the building and create more space for parking — I can’t deny that the view from my side of the fence at least will be more panoramic than it’s been for the past 100 years or so.

But at what price?


Burt Pease, 82, lives on Depot Street down the hill from the old school.

Even now, he vividly remembers the four classrooms — two grades in each — through which he passed from 1935 to 1943.

In fact, Burt can still name all his teachers. From Charlotte Stewart in first and second grades to Mr. Staples in seventh and eighth, these all-but-forgotten souls guided him through his formative years back when Bar Mills, complete with its own rail line and fiber mill, bustled far more than it does today.

“I think it would be a shame, really — I think that’s a nice building,” said Burt (whose aunt, by the way, once owned my house). “And you know how these politicians are — they’ll tear it down and the next thing you know they’ll be out voting for another new building.”

Jan Hill and the historical society have a better idea: Leave the old school right where it is and sell it (or even give it) to the society for use as a local history center, a museum, maybe even a genealogical library to complement the old Berry Memorial Library that’s still operating directly across Main Street.

“We have precious few public buildings in Buxton left that have any historical significance,” noted Hill. “This is the singularly most dominant building in Bar Mills village — and it’s a beautiful little New England village. And we just want to level it without any forethought?”


Maybe … and maybe not.

Following Monday’s school board vote, the board’s facilities committee sat down one more time with the historic preservation folks and agreed to meet next month with a consultant who specializes in restoring old buildings for posterity.

Hilda Lynch, who chairs the committee, said the district’s 13-member board still has mixed feelings about the old school – from those who are sick of hearing about it and want it to just go away to those who shudder at the thought of seeing it carted off in so many pieces to a new location.

“That’s the part many of us are having a hard time with,” said Lynch, who’s called Buxton home for 33 years. “If it were to be sold, we’d like to have it stay where it is.”

Hill sees that as a “tiny glimmer of hope.” And she’s running with it.

Early last week, Hill received a letter from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission granting her request that the old school be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places as a “contributing resource” in the recently designated Bar Mills Historic District. It’s by no means a show stopper, but it’s still a formal acknowledgment that the building is indeed worth preserving.


The same day, the nonprofit group Maine Preservation informed Hill by mail of a $1,000 Planning Seed Grant to be used toward saving the school.

That’s $500 more than Hill originally requested.

“Economic studies have shown that historic districts increase property values and taxes, accelerate appreciation and significantly contribute to heritage tourism as well as to social stability,” wrote Maine Preservation Executive Director Gregory Paxton.

Of course, more money will be needed — probably a lot more.

But behind those partitioned offices that now sit empty, the old tin ceilings, the finely crafted wainscoting, even the slate chalkboards remain to this day — all teetering between a careful restoration and an instant pile of so much rubble.

And there I now sit on my porch, caught between a more spacious view (of more parking) and a daily reminder of those who came this way long before I did.


“I think it takes a love of beauty and a love of architecture as well as an appreciation for history to care about these things,” noted Hill.

Just like my old house, she added, that school was “built to last.”

And so, if at all possible, it should.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]

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