NEWBORN — The renovation of the historic Newborn Schoolhouse isn't just about preserving the town's past. It's also an investment in its future.
The schoolhouse will reopen Oct. 2 after sitting idle for more than a year while undergoing repairs to structural damage. It's the hope of Mayor Roger Sheridan that the grand reopening will kick off the beginning of a new era for the schoolhouse, one in which it becomes a gathering spot for the townsfolk.
"We feel it is part of a nucleus. It's a center. We're hoping to have it called the community center, not just the schoolhouse," Sheridan said.
Several events have been planned in the upcoming months at the schoolhouse, and eventually, Sheridan hopes it will be the site of weddings, church services, movie viewings and other events.
But for now, town officials and volunteers who fought to preserve the building after its roof suffered extensive storm damage are marking the project's completion with a public celebration.
Beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, alumni of the school, which closed its doors shortly after World War II ended, will meet and reminisce about days gone by. Sheridan, Councilman Tom Krieger and Harold Thompson of the Newborn Area Heritage Trust will offer a welcome and everyone is invited to enjoy a free barbecue lunch, courtesy of Krieger and his wife, Lori, and entertainment from noon to 2 p.m. Featured musicians are Steve Biggers and Harold and Patsy Thompson. During this time, the new town slogan will be revealed, and a $100 prize will be awarded to the winner of a town-sponsored slogan contest. At 5 p.m., the long-awaited return of the Newborn Opry will commence, featuring a variety of artists.
A plaque will be placed at the schoolhouse with the names of donors who made the project possible. Insurance money for the roof damage and donations have totaled about $90,000, according to Sheridan. A $46,000 donation from the Guy Jones Fund and several $10,000 donations gave wings to the project, and smaller donations have also helped.
"We couldn't have done it without them," he said of all the donors and volunteers.
The total project cost is approximately $124,000. The town is footing what hasn't been covered by donations, but money is still being accepted. "We've still got work to do," Sheridan said, noting that the building needs to be painted and the kitchen remodeled. "We've just extended ourselves as far as is feasible at this time."
Built circa 1923, the schoolhouse is owned by the town and maintained and leased by Newborn Area Heritage Trust. In recent years it has been best known as the home of the Newborn Opry. After the building had to be closed because it was structurally unsound: "We were going to do one of two things — either fix it or tear it down. With the history on it, it had to be taken care of," Sheridan said.
He thanked all those who've had a part in the building's restoration and invited the community at large to come out and see the results.
"We'd like anybody who wants to come to come and be welcomed there," he said.