COVENTRYVILLE — The Coventryville Museum restoration project was in full swing at the end of February.
As part of the restoration project Coventry Town Museum Director Kurt Riegel said they recently replaced an earlier 20th century window sash with a salvaged, period-appropriate window sash to match the original windows in the building.
The project was funded by a grant provided by the Community Foundation for South Central New York.
The museum is housed in the historic District 2 Schoolhouse located on the intersection of County Route 206 and 27.
It is a one story wood frame building on a cut stone foundation built in 1852 and was the third schoolhouse to be built in the Coventryville School District. It served as a school until 1956, when it was closed.
Phyllis Lerwick, former Coventryville Historian and Museum Director, said, “The Congregational Church owned the old schoolhouse and had dinners and other events there. They used it as theirs as it was on their property.”
“I know that in 1976, for a fact, a group of citizens said, for a bi-centennial project, let's make the school house a museum. Let's go with it. And they did it and went big time. The group worked long and hard to save the schoolhouse and turned it into the Coventry Town Museum,” Lerwick said.
“It's a great happening now that Kurt [Riegel] is interested and everything is new and fresh. It's a miracle. He's so qualified. I know him personally and his family from Harpursville and it just goes way back. I'm so happy he's taken the assignment on and he's making it good. He's done a nice job so far and is still going, not done yet.” Lerwick added.
Riegel said, “I’ve been working on the building for about four years. However, there are a lot of people who have done a ton of work to the museum over the years. I am just one link in the long chain of people.”
Brian Miller was one of the many volunteers in that long chain of people. He worked many days replacing old boards, fixing stoops and rotted wood, he replaced plexiglass in the bell tower, fixed both outhouse doors so they could open and close properly and removed animal carcasses that had gotten inside.
“We've been very fortunate with people in the community supporting the museum and sending monetary donations. The Oxford Museum has been extremely generous in financially aiding us with 50 percent of the money raised from selling off deaccessioned items within their museum," Riegel said.
The museum received $2,500 in grant funding last summer from 'Donors Who Care.' This award assisted in the restoration of one of the windows on the building front and the paint for the entire building exterior.
Donors Who Care Program Assistant Stacy Mastrogiacomo said, “Our competitive grant making is done with the help of interested community members from the region who serve on the Grant Panels. Panel members thoroughly review every application with the goals of our grant making and priority issues in mind. Priority issues are determined by our needs assessment which can be found on our website, DonorsWhoCare.org.”
“We could not do what we do at the museum without the generous support of our community members,” Riegel said.
“Since my involvement, we have replaced both windows in the front with period appropriate, fully restored windows; started painting the exterior of the entire building, back to its original color - red; painted the foyer back to its original color scheme; cleaned out the back rooms to make better use of our space; and jacked up the front of the building and replaced the rotten sill beam with an in-kind labor donation by Dennis Walrath of Wildwood Construction.
“We restored the front sign for the museum; cleaned up yard debris and garbage that was previously there; cut down overgrown bushes and trees that were causing issues along the foundation; repaired gutters; reglazed most of the windows on the building sides; and repaired the shutters,” Riegel added.
“My knowledge of window restoration began 15 years ago, when I apprenticed under master restoration carpenter Mike Burgevin. He was a valuable mentor to me, teaching me all he knew on restoration and historic preservation."
Riegel also holds a Bachelor's Degree in Urban and Regional Planning and a Master's Degree in Architecture with a focus on historic preservation.
“I'm very interested in local history of this region and also fascinated with the early pioneer life, pre-1830,” he said.
Riegel Restoration is owned and operated by Kurt Riegel and located in Unadilla. The companies main focus is on historic windows and gravestones. They also offer restoration consulting work for nearly any type of work needed in historic homes. Services are offered throughout the northeast including New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
He is on the board of directors for the Unadilla Historical Society, on the Rotary Club in Bainbridge, and owns The Andrew Mann Inn, where public events are offered relating to the 18th century.
The museum displays a plethora of artifacts relating to the town of Coventry. Some items are in safe storage in their research room and include planks from the plank road that ran through Coventry, tools and household items from early pioneers of the town, relics from historic businesses, and pieces of architectural elements from local historic homes which have been demolished in the past.
“We've started to publish a quarterly newsletter that we mail to all of our members. We share museum efforts, events, programs, and any historical pieces of information we discover. Our membership has grown substantially in the past few years due to the various guest speaker presentations, hikes, cemetery tours, and other events we plan and host throughout the year,” Riegel said.
Guest speaker presentations are May through October at 6 p.m. on the last Tuesday of the month. The museum is open during advertised events and programs throughout the year. Otherwise, it is open by appointment.
“The building is important because it educated many of the residents of Coventryville from 1852 to 1956,” Riegel said.
Harvey Fletcher, a lifelong resident of the Town of Coventry spent many years on the Town Council, and started his education as an attendee of the former school from years 1946 to 1951. He said his Aunt Ethel Fletcher was the school teacher.
“There were about 15 students, various ages, and my aunt taught all of the grades. I was six years old and studied through sixth grade in the schoolhouse. I used to hop on a milk truck to ride to school. Other times, parents would drop us off or you could catch a ride on the big bus that went by on its way to Afton,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher continued, “We used to do little pieces like Christmas shows at the school. It was small potatoes compared to what goes on today.”
He said he thought the schoolhouse was put to good use and that it's nice to have a museum in Coventryville.
Previous resident Kathleen Miller Thompson recalled attending the school. She lived a few houses up the road.
She said, “I started going to the school in 1949 and was the only one in first and second grade. Later two others joined for third through sixth grade: Sylvia Tracy and Herbie Lashway.”
“The school house was built, maintained, and loved by the entire community and continues to be maintained and loved as the museum. It is a building that the community can be proud of and can become a focal point, or a beacon of hope, that history is not lost, but will continue to be loved and appreciated for many future generations,” Riegel said.
For additional information, follow the Coventry NY History group on Facebook.