Press-Republican

April 1, 2013

Peru, Upper Jay buildings nominated for national catalog

By CHRIS FASOLINO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — A one-room schoolhouse in Peru and a showroom for Model T Fords in Upper Jay have been nominated as additions to the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

The Peru property is the Lyon Street School, built circa 1881 and used as a schoolhouse into the 1930s.

“Inside, you had seats on one side, then on the other; boys were on one side, and girls on the other,” remembered Arnold Wells, 90, who was a student there. 

“As you entered the schoolhouse, you could see where they burnt the coal.”

He also recalled his responsibilities there. 

“I was one of them teenagers, ya know,” he said with a chuckle. “I don’t know if you would call it being a janitor, or what, but I would load the stove with coal.”

REMAINS ORIGINAL

Peru Town Historian Ron Allen said that the well-preserved nature of the property is part of its value. 

“Many one-room schoolhouses had a room or two added on and became homes. So they were changed architecturally.” 

By contrast, the Lyon Street School “is original,” the historian said.

“It had been used primarily to store hay since it had been closed.” 

Eventually, owners Allen and Marian Dixon sold it to the Town of Peru for $1.

The simple wooden building is now painted red with white trim. However, as a schoolhouse, it was painted white. 

Allen said there is some question as to whether the trim was blue or green at that time, as recollections vary. 

BELL THEFT THWARTED

Atop the roof is a frame that held the school bell. The bell itself has been preserved and is currently part of the Clinton County Historical Museum’s exhibit “Peru’s Busy Past.”

Allen said that the bell had been taken down some time ago, in part because of a peculiar incident. 

“In the early years of the Plattsburgh Air Force Base, a couple of airmen attempted to steal it.” 

They were frightened off by Dixon, he said.

In time, Allen said, the bell may be restored to its original location. 

He would also like to see the interior of the schoolhouse restored, though he admits it may be difficult to find enough wooden school desks. 

“We’d like it restored as much as possible, though. It would be great for schoolchildren of today to take field trips to see what a one-room schoolhouse was like,” Allen said.

FORD DEALERSHIP

The other area building nominated to the State and National Registers of Historic Places is the former Keith and Branch Ford Motors Factory Room and Showroom in Upper Jay. The building is now the site of Upper Jay Upholstery, the Recovery Lounge and the Upper Jay Art Center. 

It was built around 1920 for the partial assembly and local sale of Model T Fords.

Local businessmen Earl Keith and Robert Branch were already partners in a general store and granary when they started their Ford Motors franchise in 1914. 

Their initial success led to the construction of the building in 1920. 

Keith and Branch advertised their Ford automobiles in local papers such as the Record-Post of AuSable Forks, where in 1923 they described the new Model T sedan as “a better-looking, roomier car.” 

The ad reads, in part: “The higher hood and enlarged cowl curving gracefully to the dash give a stylish sweep to the body lines, and afford additional leg room for occupants in the front seat.”

The Keith and Branch franchise remained in business until at least the 1940s.

COULD QUALIFY FOR GRANTS

The schoolhouse and the former Ford Motors building were among 27 properties recommended throughout New York state for the registries. 

Recommendations approved by the state historic preservation officer will be officially listed on the New York State Register and then nominated to the National Register. 

Listing on the registers can make properties eligible for grants, tax credits and other programs.