Building Description Waits River Schoolhouse, Topsham Vermont

The Waits River Schoolhouse, built in 1914, is a 2-story, 3 x 3 bay, vernacular structure incorporating elements of Colonial Revival styling. This schoolhouse/grange hall was built as a replacement for an earlier school building located on the same site and destroyed by fire in 1913. The 1914 school incorporates a series of alterations required by state legislation on minimum standards for school buildings. The 2-story structure is a rectangular block with a hipped roof. A central, 2-story pavilion projects from the front elevation with a 1-story, single bay entry porch. The structure rests on a poured concrete foundation capped by three rows of concrete block, creating a full basement. A single, rear wall, concrete block chimney penetrates the hipped roof. The exterior walls are sheathed in clapboard and the roofs are covered with standing seam sheet metal. The exterior trim, with simple capitals consistent throughout, includes a wooden water table, narrow plain corner boards, plain frieze and molded, boxed cornice. The pavilion and entry porch feature narrow cornice returns which, along with the banks of windows on the southeast elevation, are the most notable detailing on the structure. The porch, with square posts, clapboard apron and molded cornice returns, is asymmetrically located to shelter the single leaf entry door. The interior of the schoolhouse, in contrast with the plain exterior, contains a great deal of elaborate mass-produced/machine made ornament.

The Waits River Schoolhouse is located on the northeast side of Route 25, .1 mile northwest of Waits River Village (Topsham Town, Orange County, Vermont) in an open, rural setting. The structure is situated on a sloping, half-acre lot fully enclosed by low fencing. The lot is the original schoolhouse lot deeded for such use in 1888. The land immediately surrounding the lot is rolling farmland and pasture. The schoolhouse is set back approximately 100 feet from Route 25 and the front elevation overlooks the Waits River beyond the roadway.

The village of Waits River is a small riverside community whose initial settlement was a direct result of the availability of water power. It was one of three major villages in Topsham Town at the time Abby M. Hemenway described the village in the Vermont Gazateer. She reported that Waits River contained "1 store, 1 tavern, 1 saw and grist mill; also a Union meetinghouse built in 1859, and occupied mostly by the Methodists and Universalists." At that time there was also a post office in Waits River. The scattered structures that remain along Route 25 are survivors of a 1952 fire that destroyed the majority of the village's historic structures.

The windows of the schoolhouse are generally paired or single 2/2 sash with lightly molded cornice caps. The upper story of the southeast elevation features a bank of seven 2/2 sash windows, added in 1954, while the lower story of the same elevation features a bank of three oversized 12/12 sash windows, added in 1931. All second story windows abut the eaves. The added bank of windows on the first floor has plain surrounds and a drip mold. The original symmetry of the fenestration on the front elevation was broken in 1954 by the removal of three windows whos outlines still provide an indication of their original location. Also in that year, one upper story window was removed on the northwest elevation and a single sash window from an original grouping of three was probably removed on the first story of the same elevation. Two-over-two sash are also used to light the stairhall within the pavilion. Paired, single-pare windows light the attic in the peak of the pavilion. (The removal of the specific windows mentioned above did not necessitate the alterations of any surrounding features and it is proposed by the current owner that many of them be replaced.)

The pavilion entry provides the only access to the first floor. Previous to 1953, a second door on the southeast elevation (located beside the banked windows) provided access to a five foot wide hallway. According to a local source, the hallway was used for wood storage and the entry was primarily a service door to this area. It is probable that when the classroom was expanded into the hallway area in 1953, the doorway was closed over. Entry into the basement, which once contained a cafeteria, is through exterior, double leaf doors on the front elevation. The heavy doors feature four panes of glass over two vertical wooden panels. A second story door on the rear elevation opens onto a small porch and steep wooden stairs (badly deteriorated).

In contrast with the relatively plain, vernacular appeal of the exterior, the interior contains a great deal of elaborate mass-produced/machine-made ornament. This can be seen primarily in the use of pressed metal cladding and wooden wainscotting throughout the classroom, hallway, stairs and upstairs meeting room. This use of pressed metal and the variety of patterns utilized in the bathrooms, hallway, stairs and upper-story Grange Hall, provide an exciting collection and presentation of decorative pressed metal cladding. The beige painted metal surfaces contrast visually with the stained wooden wainscotting throughout. This vertical tongue and groove wainscotting measures approximately 4' high and retains its original finish. Window and door openings have plain surrounds and repeat the stained treatment of the wainscotting. The hardwood floor remains intact providing evidence of former desk placement.

Upon entry into the stairhall in the pavilion, one has access to the main classroom, a small closet under the stairs and the main stairway leading up to the Grange Hall. The main classroom measures 29'2" x 29'6". It dominates the southeast end of the structure and is adjoined by two bathrooms and a smaller roof measuring 10'9" x 10'4". This smaller room once served as a "library room" and provides the only interior access to the basement via an interior stairwell. The large classroom contains not only the massive 12/12 sash windows, which measure 15'6" wide by 8'4" high, but also a fine display of pressed metal on the walls, cornices and ceiling. The two bathrooms remain subdivided from the classroom as in 1931. The more northerly of the two has undergone alteration, but the other retains its wainscotting, metal cladding and evidence for utility placement. The library room is now empty. An impermanent wall marks the stairwell to the basement and was presumably built in 1953 when the stairs were moved to this location.

The second story of the schoolhouse was built specifically to house the Riverside Chapter of the Patrons of Husbandry Grange. This floor, like the first, is basically one large room. The ceiling height, 3" lower than the first floor measures 10'9". The hipped roof is revealed on the interior, creating short angled walls near the ceiling. As on the first floor, wainscotting and pressed metal sheath the walls. The majority of the ceiling is now covered by acoustic tile. When this room became a classroom in 1954, a bank of seven 2/2 sash windows was added across the southeast end of the room, aligned directly above the banked windows of the first floor. Blackboards were also added. The stage which had been installed by the Grange was cut down and moved to the west end of the room and has since been removed. Evidence for its original location remains on the wooden plank floor. One closet, the stairway and a landing to the attic fill the pavilion. The stairway and entry hall again repeat the use of pressed metal and wainscotting. The bell that formerly hung in the attic is of cast iron. It has a diameter of 21" and with its stand weighs nearly 200 pounds. It remains in the possession of the current owner.