Oak Grove School Renovation Nears Completion
Five years ago, Preservation Union County set out to restore historic Oak Grove School in Sharps Chapel. And now that labor of love is nearing completion as Preservation Union County board member Betty Bullen hopes to hold an open house at the completed building before the end of summer 2017.
The school, located near the Sharps Chapel convenience center, opened in 1935 and hosted students first through eighth grade in its two rooms until its closure in the 1960s. It was a WPA project, built in the Rosenwall style after plans for school kits from Sears-Roebuck. Bullen said Oak Grove is one of the few publicly owned schools of its kind in near-original condition, making preservation important to the history of the area.
When Preservation Union County started the project, the school was in bad shape, grown over with vines and the floor rotting through. Volunteers rebuilt the foundation, replaced the joists and beams, replaced broken windows and replaced the roof. They salvaged and replaced original wood floors and the original wood hanging doors that separated the two classrooms. The school bell still resides under the school's roof. A myriad other projects have been addressed by a dedicated group of volunteers.
"I can't count how many thousands of hours of volunteer work has gone into this," said Bullen. "Every time we do something it turns into five other things."
Right now, electrical wiring is being inspected and new fixtures installed. Next will be plumbing and fixtures, plus HVAC. There's room for a kitchen, but Bullen said "it will take another fundraiser" to get it installed.
Once completed, the school will house the Sharps Chapel Book Station in one classroom and a community meeting room in the other. The county will take over upkeep of the building and Preservation Union County will step aside, but if the building becomes vacant or unused Preservation Union County will take over the building's care.
Bullen thanked everyone who has helped with the effort so far, from volunteers to donors. Grants from the TVA Retirees Association, East Tennessee Foundation, Union County Foundation, the National Trust and Dow Chemical all helped boost Oak Grove School, 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. She thanked community members who stopped by to help out and neighbors who provided potluck lunches on workdays.
"When we work, people stop by and tell us stories about when this was a school, and we've recorded some of those stories," said Bullen. "We've even had some who taught school here. We're hoping the community will come out and see it put to use and open to the public."
Bullen said Preservation Union County is also trying to get the school added to the National Register of Historic Places. One inside wall will host a display of historic photos of the school and of the area before and after the impoundment of Norris Lake.
But when Oak Grove School opens to the public, it won't be the end of Preservation Union County's efforts. Bullen said it's just the beginning.
"I think it's a good beginning," she said. "I hope County Commission members and every county official will come to the grand opening and see it and realize that it's a good beginning for historic preservation in Union County. If we're going to make Union County a destination, restoration should be a huge consideration."
For more information and updates on the Oak Grove School project, visit Preservation Union County's Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PreservationUnionCounty/.