SKOWHEGAN — Who owns the historic Dudley Corner School House?

For as long as anyone can remember, it was understood that the town of Skowhegan owned the historic 1835 building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And for the last decade, the town’s Heritage Council was responsible for restoring the building on U.S. Route 2 about 2.5 miles east of downtown.

In its heyday the school hosted presidential elections and annual Town Meetings, box socials and Temperance and Abolitionist meetings, as well as serving as a place to educate local children.

But the one-room, red clapboard school house may not belong to the town of Skowhegan after all.

When Melvin Burnham retired as director of the Skowhegan History House Museum and Research Center this summer, he turned over documents that show the property was deeded to the Skowhegan History House Association Inc. nearly 50 years ago and is not owned by the town.

The deed, however, was never recorded at the county registry, Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand said.

Almand said Monday that the surprise notice of ownership may just be an initially shocking glitch of paperwork that has no legal impact on the town or the nonprofit History House. She said there is a provision in the warranty deed and in the Town Meeting article approved by voters stipulating that if Skowhegan History House ceases to maintain it as a historical site, ownership would revert back to the town.

“For now, I’ve told a couple of members of the Heritage Council to just hold off on continued improvements until I get it sorted out,” Almand said. “Once I get a response from the History House, I’ll move forward depending on what that response is.

“As far as legal repercussions, I can’t think of any. We’ve been working under the assumption that the town owned it. There is a reversionary portion to the vote anyway. If the History House no longer wanted to have ownership of it, it would revert back to the town. There doesn’t seem like any legal issues to me.”

Burnham said as far as he knows, the History House does not want the Dudley Corner School House. Board President Kay Marsh could not be reached Monday for comment on the matter.

The fact that the school house, built near the confluence of Wesserunsett Stream and the Kennebec River, is owned by the History House came as a surprise to Burnham and has upset some members of Heritage Council.

“There are no minutes dealing with this at all, other than that deed. Nobody knew about it on our board,” Burnham said by phone last week. “There’s nothing in our history, in our live memory — I have no idea — all we have is this document, which we don’t want. There’s a gentleman who’s been on our board for nearly 50 years, and he knew nothing about it. It was a total shock when I pulled that out.”

Burnham said the Heritage Council has done a wonderful job restoring the place, and he said he thinks that should continue. He said when he shared the new information with the board of trustees, the “overwhelming response was we don’t own it — we don’t want it.”

The Heritage Council is a town committee appointed by selectmen. Skowhegan History House is not part of town government, but is governed by the Trustees of Bloomfield Academy, according to Kim Wilson, museum assistant.

Gail Kay, chairwoman of the Heritage Council, said the sudden news of the ownership of the Dudley Corner school came as a shock at first.

“I have worked for years and years to get that school finished,” Kay said by phone last week. “The floor isn’t done, but everything else is done. I feel upset and I feel angry that this has happened this way. How did this come out so suddenly? It’s like, oh my goodness.”

Kay said the granite foundation, the windows and the clapboards are new. She said the town of Skowhegan has backed her restoration efforts, helping with obtaining grants and donations to finish the work.

According to documents given to Almand by Burnham, the town of Skowhegan conveyed the schoolhouse to the Skowhegan History House Association Inc., and voters approved the article authorizing the exchange at the March 16, 1968, annual Town Meeting. The deed was transferred on Sept. 19, 1968.

Almand said she sent a letter to Kay Marsh dated Sept. 5 noting the discovery of the transfer documents and Town Meeting vote on the school house and the reversionary clause allowing the property to be reclaimed by the town. In the letter, Almand asks if the History House board wants to keep the property or would be willing to have it revert back to town ownership.

Almand said she would like a response by Sept. 30.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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