Photo by Matt Stensland
Wheeler family and friends, from right, Anne Mitchell, Jacob Mitchell, Shayna Mitchell, Claire Farnsworth and Mitchell Timothy scrape paint Thursday at the historic Hahn's Peak Schoolhouse. More than 30 people are working to repaint the schoolhouse with its original white color.
Hahn's Peak Village A unique family reunion is giving the century-old Hahn's Peak Schoolhouse a fresh coat of paint - and settling a sore spot for the Wheelers.
Members and friends of the Wheeler family traveled to North Routt County this weekend to paint the historic schoolhouse its original white. The group of volunteers totaled more than 30 and filled eight campsites at Steamboat Lake State Park, traveling from seven states to brighten the schoolhouse that was built in about 1910. They hope to finish the new paint job today. The schoolhouse has been an increasingly faded shade of green since it was refurbished in the 1990s before its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
That color didn't sit well with the Wheelers, who have a long family history with the one-room building on Main Street in Hahn's Peak Village.
"The schoolhouse had always been white," said Darlene (Wheeler) Kemery, who traveled from Olympia, Wash., for the weekend. "We went through picture after picture and couldn't find one where it was green."
So jokes began about Wheelers sneaking to the schoolhouse at midnight and painting it white to set things straight. But when one family member found a photo from about 1910 that showed a white schoolhouse, it sealed the deal - the Wheelers contacted Marge Eardley, president of the Hahn's Peak Area Historical Society, and asked whether they could come and restore the schoolhouse to its original shade.
Eardley said she more than welcomed the volunteer work.
"It's a huge contribution and donation to us," Eardley said about the fresh paint job.
Kemery and her four sisters have been hearing schoolhouse lore since they were children.
"Dinner time was always story-time," Kemery said Thursday, as Wheelers young and old scraped old paint off the schoolhouse in warm sunshine. "I don't know how many times I've heard the one about the school teacher throwing that coal bucket at Mrs. McFadden."
Apparently, said Kemery and her sister Laurie (Wheeler) Timothy, of Phoenix, back in the 1920s, a woman named Mrs. McFadden heard that her son had caused trouble at the school and was facing expulsion. Mrs. McFadden went to the schoolhouse and began arguing with the teacher, Kemery and Timothy said. The teacher got so angry that she picked up a coal bucket next to the stove that heated the school and threw
it at Mrs. McFadden. A gouge in the doorframe still is clearly visible from the incident.
The stories start in 1921, when James and Rose Wheeler traveled from Sterling to North Routt to homestead. Laurie said her father, also named James, was in Rose Wheeler's arms as the family made its way up North Routt's steep hills in a Model T Ford.
The Wheelers had to move the truck a few feet at a time, Timothy said, placing blocks behind the back tires and engaging the manual transmission over and over.
The family joke goes that Rose accidentally used little James Wheeler to stop the tires, instead of a block, more than once.
"Oh yeah, that one. That's a good story," Kemery said. "That's why he was always so mean, grandma said."
For the Wheelers, the weekend was more than a chance to spin yarns and spread paint. The unusual reunion provided a rare chance to catch up. All five sisters hadn't been together in 11 years, Timothy said. Kemery said she hadn't seen the schoolhouse since 1992. Many family members on Thursday sported matching white T-shirts that Kemery had made to commemorate the event.
The Wheelers also helped out at Steamboat Lake, the former site of their family's ranch. Timothy said park officials gave them five nights of free camping in exchange for work clearing beetle-killed tree limbs and debris from the campground.
And members of a younger generation got a look at the schoolhouse of their ancestors - and heard the stories anew.
"Yeah, all kinds of stories," said Laurie Timothy's son Mitchell, 15. "Especially from Uncle Ted. One day he was supposed to put out a fire, but he ended up starting a bunch of fires, and then :"