Christopher Kelly, November 07, 2019 (video)


Christopher Kelly, November 07, 2019 (video)
Christopher Kelly
Colin Havener
Wethersfield Stone One-Room School House
Christopher Kelly (Chris) has spent the majority of his life in upstate New York. A graduate of New Hartford High School and then Syracuse University, Chris is the retired owner and vice president of Jay-K Independent Lumber, a three-generation family-owned local business in Utica, New York.

With his wife Virginia, he raised his family in the town of Holland Patent, where he restored his family home, one of the four stone churches on the village green. Chris has always lived an active life, and retirement has found him volunteering for a number of organizations. He has served as V.P of the Trenton Falls Association, Secretary of the West Canada Creek Riverkeepers, Chairman of the Holland Patent Planning Board, and as a Trustee of Utica College.

Upon retirement Christopher's attention turned toward restoration and preservation of the Wethersfield Stone One-Room Schoolhouse in the Town of Trenton. He became President of the Wethersfield Historical Preservation Society, overseeing the full restoration of the Wethersfield Stone Schoolhouse.

Through the years they have been able to get the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, find funding through grants, and gather the community in preserving local history. He speaks in great detail about the process of reconstruction and how the community came together in the preservation of the space. A local, he is very aware of the history of Trenton. Though he believes he is not nearly as informed as his colleagues, I found him to be quite insightful.

Chris speaks with a colloquial Mohawk Valley accent that has been slightly edited for clarity's sake. In some moments of dialogue through his storytelling, his inflections become animated and I encourage listeners to consult the audio to understand the full breadth of Chris's knowledge.

Can you tell me your name?

My name is Chris Kelly.

And Chris can you tell me about the Wethersfield One Room Schoolhouse?

I am the Vice President of the Wethersfield Historic Preservation Society and we have been working on the Wethersfield Stone Schoolhouse for the past 10 years. To restore and preserve it like it was when it was built in 1825. In 1825, a group of settlers from Wethersfield, Connecticut, moved to upstate New York to this area. In the history books it says they came to find a better place to grow corn. A group of them, I do not know how many of them there were, but they moved here and, in addition to farming, they did lumbering. There is a lot of limestone in the area. So, they did mining, quarrying and grew fruit trees and made a living. We are in the town of Trenton, New York, just a little North of Holland Patent, New York. I have lived here about 50 years and I have watched the schoolhouse deteriorate. Finally, with a group of other good neighbors, we got involved and got in the business of restoring this building. In the late 1990s a group of neighbors, I was not one of them, got together and purchased the building for $2,500.

The building was built in 1825, and it was used as a schoolhouse until 1937. Today, I believe that there are still, three or four people living that attended the schoolhouse during that last year. All those years in between it was used as a schoolhouse. Then after the schoolhouse closed, the building changed hands a few times and eventually in 1925, the good neighbors got together and bought the building. They did two things after they bought the building. Got it listed on the national register. They hired an architectural restoration, architectural firm, named Crawford and Sterns. [We] worked with a man named Randy Crawford who did an assessment report on the building explaining just what was wrong with it and just what had to be done to the building. He wrote a long report on what should be done. The neighbors stabilized the building. I got involved with some other people and we decided to do everything we can to stabilize it even more and restore it. So, about 2012 or 2013, we got together and started raising money.

Following the assessment report that the architect made for us, we started changing the building. It was pretty extensive, as the roof was nearly falling in, it was covered with a tarp, which did it a pretty good job, but there was a lot of rot in the roof, the roof boards, the floor was rotted, and the ceiling was falling down. Then there was a temporary or a suspended ceiling under that, which was deteriorating and the walls, the whole inside of the building was [in] pretty ragged condition. It had been occupied a few years, as a matter of fact, one time someone lived in here, and then it was used as an insurance company office. Maybe a couple of other things went for fifteen or twenty years that had been vacant in poor condition. We got together and we raised a little money to stabilize, to remove the old original roof, which we were unable to save. Then we put a new roof on, put shingles on it, and secured the building from the elements. After that, we had to work to finish off the inside of the building, which we did. We put new walls, new ceiling, new floors, some new windows. We did it all when we hired the original roofing contractor. We had a great restoration contractor, builder, work with us who did the finishing work. We had an awful lot of labor. Probably a hundred volunteers through the three or four years who worked on it. A hundred or more, help[ed] us with their expertise from reporting new walls to painting, to doing the windows, to clearing out the old building. To, getting it ready and then we worked following the directions in rebuilding it. It is all new on the inside. The floor is a copy of the original floor and the benches are a copy of the outline we found on the walls as we were [tearing] things apart. They are the same shape and size as the original one. The wainscoting, part of it is original and part of it, the rest of it, it is a copy of the original.

The ceiling, interestingly, Cove ceiling is the rafters were here when we tore the roof off. So, the ceiling is the original shape. The door is a new door that was made by a volunteer. The colors are the original colors that we sanded through maybe a dozen different coats of paint that had been used in different areas to find out just what the colors were on the walls. The inside is pretty much exactly the way it was when it was last used as a schoolhouse in 1937. We decided to redo the building to what we thought it looked like in the 1860s. So, although there are electrical lights on the wall, they are copies of 1860 candle lights that would have been used. The hardware is a copy of it, hardware from that era. All the materials are copies of what we discovered inside the building. So, we did it with the fundraising that we went out into the community upwards to, maybe 140, or $150,000. $30,000 of that came from a grant from the community foundation and the balance of it came from people who donated anywhere from $15, $20, to two, or three or $4,000. It is a total community effort, an awful lot of volunteers. A lot of generous people with their time and their money and their ideas.

The whole community certainly is thankful to the original group of 25 neighbors that got together to save the building and everyone else who volunteered and came and helped. Also, the community should be thankful to SUNY Oneonta, and the Cooperstown graduate program, and to Colin Havener for their efforts to get this, oral history I am doing, and three or four other people are doing. To keep the history, get the history down so it can be used from here on. Thank you.

Thank You Chris.

[END OF VIDEO, 09:19]
Upstate New York
Utica, NY
Colin Havener
Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta
Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY
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