A Group With a Mission
For more than 100 years, a one-room school on farmland north of Winchester was vacant except when it occasionally functioned as a grain storage site. Now, a group of friends and neighbors is rallying to restore and reuse the neglected landmark.
Ward Township School No. 5 operated from 1891 to 1911, before Randolph County consolidated its school system and began sending students to Jefferson High School in Winchester.
Jon and Carol Meeks, Randolph County natives now living in Indianapolis, were familiar with the schoolhouse because it sat on land owned by their relatives. Talk of restoring the property began nearly 20 years ago, when a photo of the school appeared in the Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Survey for Randolph County, produced in 1998 by Indiana Landmarks. A few years ago, the Meeks began to gauge community interest in the small structure. More people joined the drive to save the tiny building, forming Friends of Ward Township School No. 5 (FWTS), a nonprofit dedicated to restoring the building as an education center where elementary school children can learn what it was like to attend a one-room schoolhouse at the turn of the nineteenth century.
The group secured two grants from the Indiana Historical Society’s Heritage Support program funded by Lilly Endowment. FWTS raised the 15% match for its first grant in less than sixty days, with strong community support. “It’s a feel good project,” says Meeks, as the group’s president. An open house and hog roast at the school site earlier this month netted another $5,000 for the project.
Stabilization is already underway, including a new foundation footing, masonry repairs, and drainage work. A local carpenter will restore the distinctive arched windows, using as much original wood and glass as possible. Replacements will use donated material sensitive to the original construction.
With a grant from Indiana Landmarks’ Partners in Preservation Program, FTWS hired a preservation consultant to nominate Ward Township School No. 5 to the National Register of Historic Places and won listing earlier this year.
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