From The Hampshire Review, August 6, 2003

Willow Chapel School
Former school could again serve as learning center

Elli Goyette
Review Staff

CAPON SPRINGS - Opening its doors in 1894 to the children of Capon Springs, Willow Chapel School marks a place in history that the community is hoping to keep alive.

Given to the Willow Chapel Church by Denta Dunlap with the wish that it be maintained, residents, church members and former students want to see the old school returned to its former glory.

Because Dunlap's instructions specifically stated that if the Willow Chapel School could not be maintained, it was to be torn down, one group has set out to make sure that never happens. And so in February, a committee was formed to determine the best use for the historic structure.

"The consensus was that the most cost effective and natural thing to do was restore it to its original usage" said Barry Lupton, chairperson. "Everybody was anxious to contribute and save it."

Hoping that by restoring the one-room school to its original state and making it a museum available to both the community and guests at Capon Springs and Farms Resort, the committee has set out to raise money and gather materials to make the project a reality.

Included in their plans are finding desks, benches, chalkboards, old pictures, a historical listing of students and teachers, child mannequins, vintage clothing, an outside school bell, flagpole, hand pump and building materials such as paint and lumber. Additionally, the committee is hoping to meet its goal of raising $5,000 by Thanksgiving to aid in repairing the leaking roof, steps and other areas of the old building.

"It's truly going to be a challenge, but I've been surprised so far," said Lupton. "We are going to be positive."

Already the group has held a bake sale, which raised $400 and plans on several more fundraisers. So far the committee has raised a total of $1,455 and is looking for any help whether monetarily or through material items. In addition, George and Karen Hott have contributed a pot belly stove, and others in the community have come forward with other school-related items.

"The school belongs to the community. It should belong to the people who went here and those that live here," said Lupton.

Lupton says he hopes that the Willow Chapel School project, once completed, can serve as a footprint for other communities to do the same and restore their old schools.

"It's a shame to let your heritage slip away from you," said Lupton.

Working on the committee are Mae Kump, Betty Tharp, Johnny Oates, Barry Lupton, Sheila Silman and Diane Puffinburger.

"It"s a joint effort," explained Oates.

Serving grades 1-8, with an average of 50 pupils, Willow Chapel School closed its doors in 1956. But former students haven't closed their hearts to the old structure and the memories they took with them.

Franklin D. Brill attended the school nearly 60 years ago and wants to see it remodeled.

"It's one of the oldest buildings around," said Brill.

His sister, Willetta (Brill) Davis, began at the school when she was 6 years old and feels that bringing it back is important to the community. Betty Dunlap Tharp and Nina Bland recall walking miles just to get to school, and Tharp explained that many of the Willow Chapel School students were unable to attend high school because there were no buses at that time. Elma Bland Orndorff, also involved in the school project, is possibly the oldest surviving former student, attending in the early 1920s.

"Age has no factor. It's not one person's project," explained Lupton. "It's important to get it done now before we lose the people who went to school here."

If you would like to help with the project, make checks payable to Willow Chapel School House Fund and send to Betty Tharp, P.O. Box 173, Wardensville, WV 26851. Call Johnny Oates, (304) 874-3703 or Barry Lupton, (304) 874-3154 to donate items.

Dates and Events of Interest to Willow Chapel School

Built between 1892 and 1895, the Willow Chapel School stands on land originally owned by Benjamin and Rachel Anderson. The school was given to the Willow Chapel United Methodist Church in the 1980s by Denta Dunlap.

The original school was a one-room wood frame about 22 1/2 by 34 1/2 feet. The roof was sheet metal and supported a wooden bell tower at the east end of the building. The exterior was a wood clapboard type while the interior walls and ceilings were finished with a wood paneling that still exists today.

The teacher's desk was located at the west end of the school room, and students were arranged in rows of six desks abreast with a central and two flanking east-west aisles. Heated by a wood stove, the Board of Education hired a fuel supplier and janitor, whose duty it was to keep the stove going. In 1934, a contract for the building of two toilets was awarded by the Board of Education, and later in the 1930s, the original east wall was removed and the porch enclosed to enlarge the interior.

A hinged wood panel was constructed to divide the school into two rooms. A new porch and storage/coat rooms were added to the south wall and a number of new windows were added to the north wall for light and ventilation. In 1938, the Board of Education permitted the Capon Springs community to wire the school building with electric lights at the expense of the community. A kitchen for hot lunches was added in 1953 with the help of donations by Capon Springs and Farms hotel owner Lou Austin. The resort also gave milk to the school from its dairy cows.

In 1955-56, the Willow Chapel School closed. It was replaced by the brick Capon Springs School and Community Center. The school was pained in 1992-93, and windows were replaced under the direction of the members of the Willow Chapel Church.

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Committee members and former students found original school books in one of the coat closets within the one room school. Listed within one book was the name of the first teacher in 1894, Edith Pugh of Pleasant Dale.

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Former Willow Chapel School students stand on the old school porch. They join other members of the community in a project to restore the old school into a museum. Left to right are Nina Bland, Franklin Brill, Elma Bland Orndorff, Mae Kump and Willetta Brill Davis.