Parker is full of history and it’s on full display in the heart of downtown on Mainstreet. Next to the historic Ruth Memorial Chapel, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014, is what was originally known as the Parker Consolidated School. The school opened its doors for students in grades K-12 in 1915 to allow for more room for the expanding Pine Grove school population. William O’Brien was one of the principal contractors for the school, which sat on 1.15 acres.
Over the course of its colorful life, the schoolhouse building has served not only as a school, but also as a theater, a gym, a dance studio, a church and a cultural center. Many residents of Parker may have known the school by its former name, Mainstreet Center. It was renamed The Schoolhouse Theater to honor the history of the building. The history is not being preserved in name only. Thanks to generous grants from the State Historical Fund and the support of Town Council and Parker residents, the Schoolhouse Theater has been going through several phases of rehabilitation, restoration and refurbishing to return the building to its original historical integrity of a century ago.
Restoration phases have included restoring fourteen Mainstreet facing windows as well as installing replica doors at the front entryway to the building. The main stairwell and garden level will be fully restored as well, including removing carpet throughout the lower level to reveal gorgeous hardwood floors. With plans to relocate the dance studio from the upper level to the garden level, students will dance across the same hardwood planks that children who attended the school walked over all those years ago. Another change that was made was removing the principal’s office that had been added on the second floor. The office obstructed natural light meant to stream in from the original arched entry windows and with the office removed, the light in the building is once again streaming through those windows, just as it was originally designed to.
Plans also include removing non-original walls, which sometimes reveal little historical artifacts from past students. Items such as candy wrappers have been found in between the walls, including a “3 Sticks for a Penny” wrapper dating back to the 1930s!
The first phase of restoration cost $213,975, with $100,275 coming from a grant from the State Historical Fund. That same fund committed an additional $198,045 towards the second phase of rehabilitation. Doing the work in several phases allows for the use of these invaluable grants, which are capped at $200,000 per cycle. Without these grants, the cost of restoration would have been out of reach and the building could very well have fallen into a state of decline and lost.
Juggling the ongoing restoration projects with events at the Schoolhouse Theater can be a bit challenging, but visitors are just as excited to see what’s happening to the building as they are to attend the fantastic programming offered at the theater. The Schoolhouse Theater hosts Comedy and Cocktails, Family Discovery Series events, local school productions, intimate concerts and musical performances and more. With the restoration of the building to its original, historic grandeur, visitors will take a little piece of Parker history with them from every visit.