Old schoolhouse work begins

September 8, 2012

John WIlton in front of his schoolhouse

Note: We first ran this story on Aug. 28 but thought we would repost.

SCOTTVILLE – “I still wake up in the morning and don’t ask myself why I got into this,” John Wilton said about purchasing the old Scottville schoolhouse.

In June Wilton of Queensland, Australia, bought the schoolhouse. He was driving through Scottville with some friends on their way back from Traverse City when they took what he described as a short-cut through Scottville. They drove past the old schoolhouse on North Main Street. “I told them, I’m going to buy that,” he said. A few hours later, Wilton owned the building.

For the past week he has been at the site, along with Jamie Casciaro of Custer and Jerry Petersen of Scottville, trying to secure the building for winter.

The old Scottville High School is the oldest building in town. It was built in 1888 and operated as a high school until 1959, continuing as a junior high until 1976 when the Mason County Central Middle School was completed.

After that, it was home to Faith Tech., a Christian training school. It then closed for many years until it was opened in the 1990s as a retail outlet. Since 1996 it has not been occupied and has gone through several owners.

It is a historical landmark, listed on the national and state historic registries.

For many years the building was the town’s center point. Today, it is nearly in ruin. Walking into the south front entrance, one enters near the office of legendary principal/superintendent Arnold O. Carlson. Down the hall are two large staircases that go up to the second floor. Another set of staircases lead to the basement.

There are hints that the building used to be a school. But most of what’s left now are rotted floors, deteriorating bricks and mortar and broken windows.

Much of the roof over the back wing of the school has collapsed. Shoring it up for winter has been a top priority for Wilton. He also had to pump over three feet of water out of the building’s basement, which once housed the kitchen, locker rooms, boiler room and a classroom.

Wilton said he plans to be here for another three weeks and then will return next summer to work on the building again. He doesn’t quite know what he is going to do with the building. He said it’s important to maintain much of its historical integrity and he’s gotten suggestions from locals.

One suggestion he keeps going back to is making the facility a conference/reception hall and possibly a bed and breakfast. However, he doesn’t expect to be completed with the work for at least five years.

“Every square foot of this building needs attention,” he said.

Besides the roof and the basement, a lot of the building’s brickwork has suffered due to neglect.

“If someone would have started fixing this building up five or six years ago we wouldn’t have a lot of these issues,” he said.

A contractor by trade, Wilton said has made other similar investments in the past in Australia, Canada and Ireland, but never in the United States and never something as big as the old Scottville schoolhouse.

Wilton said he considers the work a challenge and he enjoys doing this type of work. “It’s an interesting building.”


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Story and photos by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief


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