Atkinson schoolhouse added to state's historic list

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Aug. 5—ATKINSON — The Center School in Atkinson, the last one-room schoolhouse in town, has been added to the New Hampshire Register of Historic Places.

Built circa 1880 and operating until 1949, the single classroom reflects the town's rural roots and the evolution of school buildings over time.

It's an unassuming, white-painted building nestled on a quarter-acre of land on Academy Avenue across from Atkinson Academy and Town Hall, and to a passerby may look like a small home.

It's a "humble building," according to Ben Wilson, director of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources.

"It tends to be the most humble of buildings like this within a local community that really tells the most about who we are," Wilson went on. "That's what makes these types of schools we find around the state important because they tell a much more full history of our local communities and folks that came before us."

Wilson explained that Center School's architecture is a perfect example of a 20th century movement to improve educational buildings with better lighting and ventilation for children. The school was used for early education, primarily grades 1 through 3.

Windows were installed on one side by 1918 to increase natural light and bring the designs up to date.

The recognition of the building on the state list comes after persistent efforts from the Atkinson Historical Society.

The society championed the schoolhouse's nomination with the hopes of preserving its storied history and students' memories.

Members were required to collect materials like town reports to prove the importance of the spot. They also needed the town's approval to move forward with the nomination because it's a town-owned building.

Kate Rochford and Ellen Beckwith, members of the Atkinson Historical Society, are just a couple of the project's leaders.

"Our team has done a great job getting us on the list," said Rochford, president of the society. "We are now looking at options to restore it back to a one-room schoolhouse."

Over the years, the building has been adapted and used as town offices, a police station and most recently a family mediation center. It's been vacant for about two years.

The Historical Society is working to find photos of the original interior and track down students who attended.

"We created a Facebook group and posted several of these old pictures, saying, 'Do you recognize these last names?,'" said Beckwith, head of a special committee for this effort. "They are town names, but we are getting very few responses."

Wilson noted that inclusion on the list is a point of pride for local historians who work hard at restoration efforts.

"In a small rural town you recognize if a building goes missing," Wilson said. "It leaves a hole in the community. It's really important for folks when they are able to get this recognition. It shows pride in their town."