Next to a bridge over Thompson Creek in the unincorporated farming community of Raus stands what was once the community’s one-room, one-teacher schoolhouse.
Next to the schoolhouse runs a creek that leads to an outdoor pavilion built and maintained by area Eagle Scouts. And it is there that, each June, the community gathers for an old-fashioned ice cream social to raise money to operate the 129-year-old building, which now serves as the Raus Community Center.
“We cook hamburgers and make gallons of homemade ice cream and invite all the community and the money that we raise goes to taking care of the building for the year,” said Rebecca Parker of the Raus Community Improvement Club (CIC). Parker is now part of a larger effort to raise funds for the building’s restoration.
For the last 63 years, community support has been critical to keeping the historic building operational. But since the building was constructed in 1888 it has never been renovated. And the cracks are starting to show.
For the Bedford County Raus community, which depends on the center as the hub of activity, the loss of the former school would be tragic.
“People are just really, really attached to it,” said Parker. “The community loves this building. It is the community. This is Raus. This is the heart.”
The one-story colonial revival schoolhouse on Smith Chapel Road began operation as the Raus School in 1890. At least, Parker said, “We have a record of someone teaching school here in the 1890s, so we know it had to be done by then.”
The schoolhouse, built to a typical-for-the-day T-shaped floor plan, saw a small addition in the early 1900s – estimated between 1914 and 1920 – and at one time served more than 100 students in multiple grades.
Almost immediately after the school stopped operation in 1954, the Raus Community Improvement Club was formed and took over the operation of the building as a community center.
In the 63 years since, the former schoolhouse has served as a vital part of the Raus community, hosting birthday parties, weddings, classes, club meetings and, each September, a reunion for the surviving former students of Raus School.
The building even served for a time as the community’s polling place in local elections, until voting was moved to a venue with indoor plumbing, which the center does not have. Though cold water runs to a sink in a makeshift kitchen area, there is no hot water and there are no bathrooms.
“It’s amazing how we continue to use the building as it is and people are so used to it they don’t think anything of going out to the outhouse,” Parker said. “That’s just what you do out here. It’s country living and we make it work.”
But making it work is getting harder to do in the building as it is.
Pointing to a separation in the building’s gable roof, Parker said, “We have to fix that because that’s the beginning of the building falling apart.”
Fixing the damage that caused the separation is critical to saving the building, but repairing the crumbling stone pier foundation is just one of several critical issues that need to be addressed to keep the building in service. The frayed original electrical wiring is in such bad shape that it’s more hazardous than quaint. “It’s scary,” Parker said.
The rotting poplar siding, too, needs to be completely replaced. It’s been mended and patched many times, but when the building was painted in 2013 Parker said it was “to put a shower cap on the building to hold it together because it’s falling off.”
The original four multi-paned windows are on the replacement list, too.
“It’s going to take money and it has to start somewhere,” said Parker. “Our first goal is to make it safe and more functional.”
But it’s not just restoration that the group has in mind; in the hope of better serving the community, the CIC also wants to renovate, updating the building’s indoor plumbing to include hot running water as well as cold. And adding a bathroom, Parker said, “Would be marvelous.”
Even with volunteers completing most of the work, the renovations are expected to cost $65,000.
Fundraising So Far
It’s a testament to the small community’s love for the old schoolhouse that, as of Monday, it had already raised $16,985 toward the restoration effort.
Included in that total is the cost of four period-accurate windows. “It has to be historically accurate,” Parker said, because the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
On the morning of this year’s ice cream social, Parker put out the call for donations to the window fund. For an $800 contribution – the cost of one window – a family could have a window named after them. “We had three people (donate) right then,” Parker said.
Another $800 was raised for the last window and all four were purchased this summer. But, Parker said, “We can’t install them until we get the foundation fixed and replace the siding.”
With the amount already raised, Parker said, work can begin on the foundation within the next few weeks. But with so much more to be done, the restoration committee has begun to seek outside sources of funding.
To that end, the group has applied for a $45,000 Lowe’s Community Improvement grant. “We have no idea if we’re getting it,” said Parker. “There’s no assurance at all. So we’re going ahead with the restoration project anyway.”
Parker said she hopes Raus’ effort to restore and maintain its historical landmark will speak to people who live outside the community.
“These types of communities are few and far between and this building isn’t going to survive if we don’t work hard to get the money to bring it up,” she said. “We need people to respond to the need to restore an old landmark.
“It’s not like Europe. We don’t have 200- or 300-year old buildings. This, for here, is really, really old and there’s not a lot of them, so it’s really important to preserve it and do what we can to keep it for the next generation because this is all we have.”
To that end, the restoration committee also has plans to create a display within the building honoring its history.
During a recent inspection of the electrical wiring, seven iron desk frames original to the schoolhouse were found in the building’s attic.
With the help of volunteer Paul Credle, a member of a local woodworking club, the group is restoring the desks for display in what the CIC hopes will eventually be a “schoolhouse corner,” complete with copies of text books used in the 1900s, a relief map dated 1910, a flag and a blackboard.
“We really want this to be used by students to come and see what it was like to come and be in school in 1900,” Parker said.
How to Help
“I know we’re competing for a lot of other dollars and a lot of need – there’s a whole lot of things you can contribute to right now – but that’s okay,” Parker said. “People need to know that this community is alive and well and the building isn’t. And it needs to be to support the community.”
Anyone interested in contributing to the restoration effort may send a donation to the Raus Community Improvement Club (CIC) at P.O. Box 100, Tullahoma, TN 37388.
The Raus Community Club can be found on Facebook.
Kelly Lapczynski may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.