SOUTH STARKSBORO - The Friends of the Jerusalem Schoolhouse received a big boost to their fundraising efforts last week with a joint gift of $1,500 from the Co-operative Insurance Companies, the Laberge Insurance Agency of Middlebury, the Gaines Insurance Agency of Vergennes and Joseph Devall, former CEO and current member of the board of directors of Co-operative Insurance.
The gift was awarded as part of the Co-ops Community Grants program and will be used to fund the Jerusalem Schoolhouse's ongoing restoration project.
"We think the friends of the Jerusalem Schoolhouse are showing a great commitment to the community of South Starksboro for their efforts in fund-raising to improve and upgrade the Jerusalem Schoolhouse to become a viable community center," said Bill Laberge. "We're proud to support their efforts."
The Co-op's grant program was established in 2004 to assist with community projects in Vermont and New Hampshire, providing funds for capital campaigns throughout the two states.
"Groups like the Friends of the Jerusalem Schoolhouse are meeting needs in the same communities that the Co-op serves," said Brad Fortier, senior vice president of marketing and underwriting. "We think it's important to do our part as neighbors to help them out and this grant program is one more way we can do that."
Greg Orvis, one of the members of the Schoolhouse Committee, said the first order of business in the restoration plan is to replace the septic system, followed by heating and electrical upgrades, foundation and roof work. The goal is to raise $150,000, and to date, they have raised approximately $30,000.
"We're getting ready for the next hundred years. We also hope to have the building able to be used year-round," Orvis said.
Orvis said he has fond memories and an ongoing connection to the schoolhouse he attended as an elementary school student.
Built in 1874, on the site of a previous schoolhouse, the Jerusalem Schoolhouse was considered quite an imposing structure at the time - back when Route 17 was still the unpaved McCullough Turnpike and children routinely rode horses to school each morning.
Generations of children were educated in the rural schoolhouse until its closure in 1968; there are still many people in the area, like Orvis, who remember doing their lessons around the woodstove on winter mornings. The schoolhouse is listed on Vermont's Division of Historic Sites. It has continued to serve as a center for community events in the Jerusalem area of South Starksboro.