Walking across the wooden floor of the unused Fishing Creek School - a historic one-room schoolhouse still standing in Lower Township - Norris Clark can see more than the rusting ceiling and peeling paint inside the four walls.
Looking around the schoolhouse, the chairman of the nonprofit Friends of Fishing Creek School Inc., dedicated to restoring the building, sees the iconic building's past and future in Lower Township.
"This is where the teacher would stand to face her class," Clark said as he stood in the back of the room. "Next to her would be a fire and in the front of the room, right before the door, would be a wall to keep the warmth of it inside."
The Friends of Fishing Creek web site, http://www.fishingcreek" target= "_blank">www.fishingcreek
school.org, says the Fishing Creek School was constructed in 1888 on farmland donated by the Matthews family. The schoolhouse served as the only school in the area until 1921, when some students were sent to the Cold Spring Academy.
In the 1920s, as many as eight one-room schoolhouses stood in the lower Cape May region. The Fishing Creek School House is the only one remaining in Lower Township, Clark said.
"Once school buses were invented, so was the concept of consolidated schools, which made trips to and from more efficient," he said.
Although the children moved out of the building into the new schools, the building remained standing and was sold at public auction in 1926 to the Leckey family to be converted into a summer home.
In 1980, the Leckeys got the school onto the national and state historic registers to ensure it was spared demolition. In 2002, the building was purchased by the state Green Acres program and leased to Lower Township for 20 years.
Visible indicators of the building's original purpose include a simple white sign in the ground near the entrance and a small chalkboard mounted on one of the interior walls. On the chalkboard, written in large capital letters, it says, "Fishing Creek School Must Be Saved For the Community."
That exemplifies all that the building and the Friends group stands for, Clark said.
"This endeavor is about the community," he said. "The community taking pride in an community effort."
The group's goal is to restore the structure and turn the historic building into a community center for area residents.
"It will be a space for concerts, art classes for kids, art exhibits and more things we haven't dreamed up yet," Clark said.
He said the project awaits funding to begin the next renovation phase, refinishing the exterior. The nonprofit does not have a benefactor, which can make each repair daunting. But the group is growing, and Lower Township is helping.
The township funded roof renovations, and Mayor Michael Beck has helped to organize the group.
John Louderback, membership chairman of the group, said the organization is seeking more friends to keep the dream of the building's future alive and make it a reality. "It's a likely testament to a bygone era that serves as a history lesson for Lower Township," he said.
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