With plans completed and financing assured, work is set to begin on another phase of a painstaking restoration project designed to have Belmont County's only remaining one-room schoolhouse looking much like it did when constructed more than a century ago.
Utilizing funds obtained through a special grant program offered by the Belmont County Tourism Council, the National Trail Questers No. 348 of St.Clairsville is having a replica constructed of the bell tower that graced the Great Western Schoolhouse when it was built. It's hoped the bell tower can be in place before the National Questers Convention in October
Ann Rattine, preservation and restoration chairperson of the NTQ, told the tourism council, "We are so appreciative of the $5,000 grant which has been provided for us." But the grant was not sufficient to cover the entire cost of the bell tower. They needed $3,360 more to cover the cost.
"After we received that grant," Rattine told me last week, "we were in touch with Ohio University Eastern (on whose property the school is located)." She said a meeting was arranged with OUE officials and an architect the end of June. "OUE had informed us they would cover the rest of the expense of constructing the bell tower." Preservation Technology, a local firm operated by Greg Robinson and Kelly DeNoon, will be completing the project.
"They have done work for us at the school for the past five years," Rattine noted. "Just last weekend they completed restoration of one of the school windows." That project was completed with a $2,500 grant the Questers received earlier this year under the tourism council's "Grant Assistance Program" that has been conducted each year for the past 12 years.
This year, however, the council initiated a one-time program of awarding the county's five museums $25,000 - $5,000 each - to make whatever repairs were needed at their facilities. Representatives of all five submitted reputable contractors' bids and have claimed their funds.
"I have been fortunate to secure early pictures of the school and we know exactly how the original bell tower looks in order to rebuild it as it was." Rattine pointed out the new tower will be "skinnier and taller" than the one now perched atop the schoolhouse located on historic National Road about two miles west of St. Clairsville.
One of the biggest projects at the old schoolhouse since the Questers took over its restoration has been rebuilding and installing new windows and blinds. "Six of the windows have been finished. We have four more to complete." But the cost of restoration of the windows in the 142-year-old structure that was constructed in 1870 is straining their finances. "At first we were getting the windows with the blinds restored for $2,200 each. But the cost of this last window was $2,400"
Although the windows have been given priority for restoration, Rattine noted there is another project that is just as urgent. "The schoolhouse door needs to be replaced. The door on it is a barn door." She is hopeful other financing may become available in addition to that provided by the tourism council.
Some time ago her group was able to secure the bell that tolled the start of classes and she is hopeful the tower will be finished by October when the Questers convention is scheduled to be held. The convention features her Questers group as well as the Wilson Shannon Questers of St. Clairsville.
Before the Questers organization became interested in the Great Western Schoolhouse, it was pretty much of a shambles. "It was in bad shape and needed a lot of work," Rattine commented. "We took over the restoration in 1976 as a bicentennial project." They have made great strides since then to get the building in presentable condition to attract visits by various groups.
She was most gracious to the tourism council for its financial assistance. "Thank you for remembering the school," Rattine exclaimed. "As you can see, we are not at a loss of projects which are needed to continue to keep the school functioning as a welcome and safe venue for the community and beyond."
Six Belmont and Harrison County communities as well as the Tri-County Water District that purchase water from the Belmont County Sewer District will be paying more, effective Wednesday.
Increased cost of electrical service was the "primary" reason cited for the increases approved by the Belmont County commissioners. The increases range from approximately 23 cents per 1,000 gallons of water to slightly more than 24 cents per 1,000 gallons.
Bellaire will have the smallest increase, of .2368 cents, from the current rate of $3.626 per thousand gallons to $3.8626. Belmont, Flushing, New Athens, Morristown and the Tri-County Authority have identical increases of .2454 cents per thousand gallons, from the present rate of $3.795 to $4.0404. The increase for St. Clairsville is .2452 cents per thousand gallons, from the current rate of $3.203 to $3.504. With the increase in the water rate, those same entities will have their current sewer rates increased by .643 cents, from $4.11 per thousand gallons to $4.753. Sewer district director Mark Esposito told the commissioners the increases are based on the annual analysis report and are driven primarily by hikes in utility rates.
Ohio Department of Development Director Christiane Schmenk paid a visit to Belmont County recently to familiarize herself with the area and the economic development climate in the county.
"This was an opportunity to give her an idea of the geography of the area as well as a picture of the economic development taking place," commented Sue Douglass, director of the Belmont County Development Department/Community Improvement Corp., who took her on a tour.
One key place on the tour was the Fox Commerce Park, where Schmenk had the opportunity to witness development in action as work is under way at five different sites in the industrial park, including the two sites where construction has been started on three office buildings for Chesapeake Energy. The huge retail center formed by the Ohio Valley Mall and the Ohio Valley Plaza were also viewed as well as other individual sites around the county. Her visit was cut short after receiving word on a more pressing matter in another part of the state. "But I'm sure she will be coming back to Belmont County very soon," Douglas said.
One morning last week when I went out to get the morning paper from my driveway, I came face to face with two deer. They were crossing the street from my neighbor's yard toward my house and probably my garden. They stopped dead in their tracks, about 15 feet away, when they spotted me and just stood there a short time staring at me. Finally they turned and fled. As I started back to the house, a third deer approached but turned quickly to follow the other two. They were headed in the direction of the National Road Bikeway.
If you haven't as yet picked your own blueberries, now is the time to visit the Kilgore Road Fruit Farm located between Bridgeport and Bellaire. Word from Bob Keefer is that the late berry vines "are loaded and are easy to pick." The late berries will last through August and September and anyone can pick their own on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays only.
A grand opening will be held on Saturday at the huge Dickinson Cattle Co.'s ranch near Barnesville where Texas Longhorn cattle roam, for a new, larger store where ranch general manager Darol Dickinson says patrons will find "special products you can't find at Walmart's."
A full day of activities for adults and children is planned for the opening of the "Longhorns Head to Tail Store." Special offers include jewelry items, which Dickinson says are "hand made by Dickinson Cattle Co. cowboys - the prettiest all-horn designs of bangle ear rings, bracelets, necklaces" and he claims they are much nicer than pure ivory "because of the variation in Texas Longhorn coloration."
"Families will enjoy the unique store-stuff," Dickinson offered, adding, "kids will do the (ranch) tours."
Lovers of Polish foods, delicacies,crafts and polka music will find them all next Sunday during the Barton Polkafest, to be held at the Barton Firemen's Field from 2-8 p.m. Admission is $5 nd children under 16 will be admitted free. Two musical groups, "Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push" and "The Knewz," will provide dancing music. Proceeds from the event go to the Barton Volunteer Fire Department.
Belmont County lost one of its finest law enforcement officials last week with the death of Bethesda Police Chief Tim Zdanski. In addition to being a standout contributor to the eradication of child and drug abuse in the country, Zdanski was a community leader and a standout first responder to any emergency in the county. He will be sorely missed.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: amole0420.