County Comes Together for Oak Grove School
When the bell rang at Oak Grove School Sept. 30, a hush fell over the assembled crowd, not students this time but a community of volunteers, sponsors and well-wishers celebrating the grand opening of the renovated building.
“We’re going to ring the bell and take up books,” said Preservation Union County board member Betty Bullen. “Who remembers hearing that in a school like this?”
The grand opening marked the end of a five-year road to restoration for the historic Sharps Chapel school, which opened in 1935 and hosted grades one through eight in its two rooms until it was closed in the 1960s. A WPA project, the school was built in the Rosenwall style after plans for school kits from Sears-Roebuck.
The school sat unused for about 50 years until Preservation Union County took it on. Countless volunteer hours have gone into bringing the building back from the brink, and sponsors are many.
Grant funding came from the TVA Retired Employees Association, East Tennessee Foundation, Union County Foundation, the National Trust and Dow Chemical, along with $10,000 from Union County Commission to help with the finish work. Corporate and silver sponsors include The Winery at Seven Springs Farm, Food City of Maynardville, Midway IGA, K. David Myers, J.V. and Linda Waller, Wanda Byerley and Copper Cellar Corporation.
Bullen thanked everyone for their help with the project and recognized board members Bonnie Peters, Robert Ellison and Ronnie Mincey. She also recognized two former Oak Grove teachers in the crowd: Georgia Cole and Ester Webb.
“This is a very special day,” said Peters. “It is a joy to do this for Union County. Please continue to help us with preserving what we can.”
As she introduced Union County Mayor MIke Williams, Peters added that the county is looking at starting a similar restoration project at Rush Strong School. Williams confirmed her statement, saying that the project is being included in grant applications.
“I appreciate the number of people here,” said Williams. “We’re trying to save those (historic buildings) that are still here because it’s important that we save them.”
Bullen handed the keys to the building over to Williams, as the county will resume ownership and care of the building. One classroom will serve as the Sharps Chapel Book Station, which will operate under Maynardville Public Library, and the other classroom will be a community room.
“I’m very excited,” said Sherry Medina of the Sharps Chapel Book Station. “I will have so much room over here.”
The book station currently operates from a portable building next to the Sharps Chapel Senior Center. Maynardville Library director, Chantay Collins, said she hopes to get the new location open by the end of October.
Scott Brooks, board president of East Tennessee Preservation Alliance, was also in attendance. Oak Grove School was featured on the ETPA 2011 Endangered Heritage List, and Brook praised Preservation Union County’s efforts to save Oak Grove.
“It’s nice to see a success story,” he said.
For more scenes from the day, please see the photo gallery on HistoricUnionCounty.com.