SOUTH NEWFANE—Every village needs a center, a focal point for activity.
But South Newfane has struggled to have a focal point in recent years, particularly after Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 turned the Rock River into a raging torrent that left massive amounts of flood damage in its wake.
The general store and post office closed a couple of years ago.
The Inn at South Newfane has been closed even longer, and is now a private residence.
The South Newfane Baptist Church is still around, but struggles as many churches in Vermont do to stay active and vital with an aging congregation that’s shrinking in membership.
And the old village schoolhouse still stands, but needed a lot of tender loving care to turn it into the focal point of South Newfane.
Thanks to the work of numerous volunteers, the schoolhouse has been restored and weatherized, and is ready for year-round use again.
The last phase of the restoration, a new maple hardwood floor and a fresh paint job, were recently completed – just in time for the upcoming Rock River Artists Tour.
“This is the last real communal space in South Newfane,” said artist and photographer Chris Triebert, a member of the South Newfane Community Association, a local volunteer organization. “And since Irene, there has been a real need for a community space.”
Through concerts, dances, and potlucks, as well as the efforts of donors and grant writers, more than $17,000 was raised to help pay for the new floor, Triebert said.
The Schoolhouse was built in the 1860s, has been owned by the South Newfane Community Association since 1953, and had been used sporadically for community events since then.
In recent years, the historic 800-square-foot building, particularly the floor, began really showing its age.
“We’ve used it for the Rock River tour, and we had to arrange things very carefully because the wrong step on some of the floorboards would knock things over,” said Triebert.
In April and May, volunteers ripped up the old floor. Some rotting beams were also replaced.
The finished product got its first big test over the weekend, as members of a dance company from Brooklyn, N.Y., used the hall for rehearsal space. They were brought there by Gordon Landenberger, a 2007 graduate of Leland & Gray Union High School who now works as an artist, performer, and set designer in the New York City area.
Triebert said that anyone in the community can use the facility for an event or class, usually for free. It can also be rented out for private events at a nominal fee.
Besides the Rock River Tour, the schoolhouse will get its big moment in the sun at the end of August, when the second annual Rock River Revival parade will start in Williamsville and end in South Newfane, reversing the route of last year’s parade.
“We’re two villages, but one community,” said Triebert, “I’ve been here for 22 years, and I’m a real cheerleader for Williamsville and South Newfane. I love this place, and I love the people here.”