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How Hurricane Michael Almost Destroyed A Century Old Piece Of History

The city of Callaway must dismantle and piece back its one-room schoolhouse to save its historical value after being damaged by the storm.

an old photo depicts a group of children standing outside of the schoolhouse
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU
John Piercy keeps records of Callaway's one-room schoolhouse. He holds an document that shows the schoolhouse when it was operational as a school.

Lillian Patterson is a woman with gray hair. She's wearing thick glasses and a teal blouse. She holds a flip phone to her ear.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
Lillian Patterson now lives in a trailer due to water damage sustained by her home during Hurricane Michael.

91-year old Lillian Patterson lives in Callaway, Florida. Down the road from her is a 108-year-old one-room schoolhouse. “Some of the best minds we have produced in this country was produced in one-room schoolhouses,” says Patterson, “Like Abraham Lincoln."

“Now, this schoolhouse only went to the eighth grade,” says Patterson.

black and white photo of a group of children posing for a photo in front of a forest.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
Children of local fishermen would come to Callaway's one-room schoolhouse to get an education.

One-room schoolhouse structures built centuries ago rarely act as schools anymore. The structures are mostly museums now and there are not many left in Florida. Hurricane Michael nearly destroyed the one in Callaway. Patterson stayed in the city, even as others left.

“Just about everybody lost a roof,” says Patterson.

After the storm passed, the City’s Leisure Services Director, Tim Legare, went to the schoolhouse.

“It was worse than I could have imagined,” says Legare. Winds blew the schoolhouse off its foundation. A brick crashed through the roof. Window glass shattered along the floorboards, and the front steps are so warped they are not safe to walk on.

Piano laying on its back with debris cluttered on top of it.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
The schoolhouse piano was toppled over during the storm and still rests inside the damaged building.

“You get up and you go look around you know, you just don’t know where to start when you see something like that,” says Legare.

Some of the old school desks and photos were rescued, but other items like the piano are smashed beyond repair. Kris Hawk is the project manager for Synergy NDS, an emergency response and recovery team that is supporting the City of Callaway.

“We’re going to try to salvage everything that is salvageable,” says Hawk.

Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
Inside the schoolhouse you can look up through the ceiling and see the sky outside. Parts of the roof were peeled off during the storm.

The schoolhouse will need to be de-constructed in order to be rebuilt. It will have to be taken down piece by piece. Replacement parts have to match the originals and that’s a bit of a challenge on a century-old building.

“If we can’t come up with reclaimed you know, oak flooring to match, it can be a composite and made to match,” says Hawk.

Composites can be new lumber made to look old. Hawk says the school’s restoration will be a long process, but Callaway locals like John Piercy say it is worth it.

Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU-FM
John Piercy stands in front of a container to pull out one of the school desks that lived inside the schoolhouse before the storm.

“You know, you just think about all the things they did like jump rope, the playing the ball, the kicking the ball. You know you can look at the old school and your mind can just wonder and you can just imagine how it went when they were going to school back then and it gets close to me," says Piercy.