Moving the Valley School

Observations and Reflections





This isn’t a formal history by any means.  I’m neither a historian, nor particularly adept at weaving a first-person narrative that relates sufficient detail without obscuring one’s view of the “big picture”, so please bear with me.


Figure 1: The Valley School in situ, April 27, 1993


My limited association with the Valley School was courtesy of my mother.  It began one morning in May 1998 when I was awakened by a telephone call.  Mom wanted me to videotape a volunteer crew that was moving the school from its original location in Conneaut Township to the campus of Northwestern School District in Albion, Pennsylvania.  Up until this moment, I had no idea that plans were afoot to move the school; nor did I realize that I would be spending most of the day following a diverse crew of people as they moved a 145 year old building several miles to its new home.


In retrospect, I wasn’t particularly happy about being awakened in this matter.  Heck, I didn’t even know where the damned video camera was located – neither was the camera charged nor a blank videotape available.  I’m sure that Jennifer was puzzled when I got out of bed, cussing about some blank videotape and left for the day without a coherent word of explanation. 


I had to cheat a little bit to get the video camera functional – the battery was completely discharged so I had to “borrow” a battery from another device and create a patch-cable to connect the non-standard battery to the camcorder.  I put the actual camera battery on the charger for later use and grabbed a used videotape that I thought could be overwritten and reused without too much trouble.  Then, I headed out for the worksite.


Moving The Valley School:


When I arrived on Cherry Hill Road, the school had already been jacked up and lifted onto a dolly for transportation.  The brick chimney had been dismantled and the building prepared for transportation in a series of earlier work sessions.  By the time I found a reasonable place to park, the school was already in transit.  When I actually started filming, the crew had unfortunately just gotten the school “stuck” on the soft shoulder of Gage Road just east of the intersection at Cherry Hill.


Figure 2: Stuck in the mud on Gage Road


Thus, the first scenes on my videotape were of workmen trying to get the school back onto the roadway, jacking the transit dolly and using planks to ease the school back onto the water-softened dirt road.  The transit dolly was towed behind a large farm tractor, and a backhoe assisted in pushing the schoolhouse from the rear.  Despite the logistical challenges of moving the relatively fragile structure over the dirt roads of Conneaut Township, the work-crew was patient and soon had the school moving again.


The short stretch of Gage Road that runs between Cherry Hill and Old Albion Road is located on the Northern bank of Conneaut Creek.  When the creek rises, as it typically does during the spring thaw, the road is generally inundated for several days.  The washboard effect that already exists from the winter months is then exacerbated by new transverse “gullys” that form as the water level goes down and traffic creates new longitudinal ruts in its surface.  Conneaut Township is usually pretty good at keeping the dirt roads graded, but in this instance, the roadway hadn’t seen a road grader or received any maintenance since the winter months.


Figure 3:  A Backhoe Pushes the School Uphill


Compounding the problems with the roadway surface, the approach to Old Albion Road is a fairly steep grade that was a challenge for the tractor, transit dolly, and backhoe to navigate.  A wood-frame schoolhouse is not an insubstantial load, and the transit dolly was not equipped with brakes.  Thus, the uphill journey was undertaken carefully, with much thought given to keeping the schoolhouse going in the proper direction.  Whenever the dolly was not actually in motion, the backhoe was positioned at the rear of the  school to keep the entire assembly from pulling the tractor back down the hill.  Crewmen were also stationed at each axle of the dolly, to chock the wheels with wooden cribbing as necessary.


Figure 4: John Hosey (left) & Bob McClymonds (right) as the school climbs the hill on Gage Road


By the time this unusual train of vehicles crested the hill at Old Albion Road, word had gotten out that the school was in transit.  A crowd of spectators had begun to gather, and traffic along Old Albion Road was threatening to hold up the schools progress.  The Pennsylvania State Police were on-hand to stop traffic along the route.  Penelec was there to supervise movement of their overhead power lines as the school passed beneath them.  Alltel had representatives to handle navigation under its telephone cables.  Pendot was out in force.  There were Conneaut Township road-crews, Bessemer Railroad employees, and even representatives of the Albion Fair Association were on-hand with the bucket truck they use to maintain the extensive electrical system at the fairgrounds.


Along with all the necessary workers, there was a contingent of news media, gawkers, and one idiot with a half-assed video camera.  Namely me.  Given the circumstances and the pressure that everybody must have been under, I must say that the powers-that-be were extremely gracious and nobody gave me a hard time about filming their efforts.


Figure 5:  Phyllis Goldhart supervises the move on horseback.


Once across Old Albion Road, the slope of Gage Road reversed and it began a long downhill run towards the next major obstacle:  making a 90 degree turn at the intersection of Gage Road and Bessemer Street.  Both roads are typical “two-lane blacktop” and turning the entire assembly without running off the road  was expected to require driving precision not usually associated with farm tractors.  Before getting to this turn, the school house had to negotiate a narrow bridge on Gage Road near the Trout Raceway.  Both the bridge and the turn were expertly negotiated but another bridge, this one on Bessemer Street, stopped the convoy dead in its tracks.


Figure 6: Gage Road at the Trout Raceway. The man atop the school moves electrical wires from the path of the Valley School


The bridge itself was perfectly fine, but the guard-rails on either approach to the bridge were just slightly too narrow to allow the school passage.  The guard-rails were removed after quick work by the Conneaut Township road crew and the school was able to pass with mere inches of clearance between the walls of the school and the vertical posts that normally support the guard rails.  Immediately after getting across this bridge, there was a mechanical failure of either the tractor or the transit dolly.  This unexpected break gave most of the crew an opportunity to have some lunch.  I took the opportunity to retrieve my camera battery from home and run the tape I’d shot up to mom’s classroom for her review and approval.


Upon my return, the crew of movers was just getting started.  The mechanical failures had been repaired and the school was moving south along Bessemer Street into Albion Borough.  The police had closed the street by this time, so I cheated a bit and used access roads in the Bessemer Railroad yards to get closer to the action.  Naturally, I got stuck right next to the “No Trespassing” signs.  John Hosey was kind enough to use his bucket truck to shove my car out of the rut and help me along my way.


Figure 7:  Pulling Across a Bridge on Conneaut Creek



More Photographs:  Descriptive Prose to Follow



Phyllis Goldhart (In Costume) Takes her horse to school. Unknown if the horse ever graduated.




New Belfry atop the school.  Still lacking bats.




Amazing cooperative children in period costume enter the school to film a commercial for WJET.



Teacher pretending to teach.  Students pretending to learn. Very modern!



Just imagine:  a coal stove in the classroom today!

(How many alarms shall I strike?)


Dana Duguay, Lower Right, Gets her first 15 seconds of fame.


Not to be outdone by his older sister, Bobby Duguay gets special attention from the local TV Personality.


Dr. Leonard McCoy (right), Superintendent of Schools and Mr. Spock (left), Science Department

Maintain order at the new location.


I’m getting a little tired.  It’s 12:50 AM on a work night.


Remember that coal stove I warned you about?



Just kidding!  The school is alive and well.  It even has electric lights, indoor plumbing, and central heating!


Even the interior is somewhat finished!