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Couple give historic building a new purpose

Tracy Tilson displays the plaque she received this spring naming the East Hebron School, a one-room schoolhouse dating back to 1888, to the N.H. State Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
August 01, 2019
HEBRON Tracy Tilson and her husband Chris Laux are the proud owners of the East Hebron School, a 131-year-old one-room schoolhouse, and while they have given a new purpose to an old building the couple has maintained its history, character and charm so well that it was listed on the N.H. State Register of Historic Places this spring.

Tilson grew up in Wentworth, and attended a three-room schoolhouse in that community until it was destroyed by fire and a new elementary school was built. Now living part time in Hebron as an adult, she said she and her husband couldn't resist buying the East Hebron School House when it came up for sale in 2017. The couple loved the history of the building and immediately began restoring it, with only a few modern amenities added in the end.

"We tried to keep it as pristine as possible," said Tilson.

The school was built in 1888 and served students in the East Hebron District until 1942. At one time the structure sat closer to Mayhew Turnpike but as motorized traffic increased and the road was widened, it was eventually moved away from the road and now sits back on its three-acres of wooded land.

While still sound in structure, there was some minor damage that occurred to the building since the school closed more than seven decades ago. Years of foot traffic and winter weather left the entryway floor in poor condition, but Tilson and Laux were easily able to remedy that situation. Thankfully, they said they were able to leave the floor in the main room intact, though, and only needed to sand down the wood and give it a new finish coat. All of the elaborate wood trim is original, too, and the interior walls simply needed a fresh coat of paint, using the same color scheme. After an update to the wiring, the antique light fixtures are still original, too.

An old slate blackboard that fills much of the front wall remains and Tilson had an artist come by to recreate a penmanship chart hanging above it keep the room authentic.

On a side wall, there is also a smaller blackboard that displays a chalk-written sample of a schedule for Miss Ford's class on July 15,1895. It reminds students that the last day of school will be Aug. 1, then lists lessons that will be covered that day. Among those are Recitations-Readings, New Arithmetic, and Penmanship before lunch. Those were to be followed by Grammar-Spelling lessons, history class, listing President Grover Cleveland as the subject, and finally geography, covering the new states of Idaho and Wyoming.

As an added touch, Tilson kept a few of the old desks as well. One sits in the entryway and holds albums filled class photographs of students who attended the school and other bits of memorabilia. The Hebron Historical Society even provided them with some period photographs to hang on the walls as well.

"They've been fantastic and provided us with a lot of information about the school, too," said Tilson.

Off the back wall of the classroom, there are rustic boys and girls toilets, a woodstove for heat and a door that led outside to the old woodshed.

The only real change the couple made was to turn the woodshed into a modest kitchen facility, but the former exterior wall along one side of that kitchen still holds remnants of the 1930 and 40's.

"You can see where some students were probably sent to the woodshed and got bored and wrote their names on the wall. I love it. We had to leave that alone," Tilson said.

Spending her summers in Hebron but owning a public relations company in her winter home of Boca Raton, Fla., Tilson decided the schoolhouse would be the perfect place to work remotely with her employees. She had a rustic wooden table built to serve as her desk and while it holds her computer and other modern day electronics, she left a reminder of the school's history on one corner.

"This is the original bell that was actually used here in the school," said Tilson.

Bringing new purpose to the schoolhouse, the center of the room is filled with a long wood table and chairs where she not only hosts meetings but has started another endeavor, Passion Project podcasts.

"We bring in authors and all kinds of people from the area to talk about their passions and encourage other people to do what they love to do, too. It's all recorded right here in the schoolhouse then sent out as a podcast," she said.

Tilson said it's been exciting to see the East Hebron Schoolhouse come back to life with a new purpose in today's world that still preserves its rich history in the community. Last year she and her husband applied for the building to be placed on the N.H. State Register of Historic Places and, now that that goal was achieved this past April, they hope to one day have it on the national registry, too.

"It's an incredible place, and I just feel so blessed to be here," said Tilson.

Varney Smith
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