Collins Schoolhouse – Lou Ann Homan
I check the back ribbon of my Minnie Pearl straw hat before leaving the house. I gingerly step into Kathy’s car ducking my head wondering how did women drive with these hats? (Perhaps they didn’t?) I notice we are both wearing summer cotton dresses and sandals. This is not an ordinary outing for a Sunday afternoon. No, we are headed to the Collins Schoolhouse to participate in the fifth annual Ice Cream Social.
The drive is once again beautiful as we meander over country roads. We pass the schoolhouse and have to turn around. Once Bart Collins helps us find parking, I feel we have been transported to another century. Tents are set up with tables and chairs for the social. Another long table is filled with home grown and homemade cobblers of peach and berry and rhubarb followed by a tub of ice cream. Whereas we are anxious to sit in the shade and visit with folks, we are, of course, drawn into the schoolhouse itself.
It is not my first visit. I used to bring my Hamilton students to the schoolhouse when June Collins was still on this earth and giving her glorious tours. We always came in the Autumn. I can remember June ringing the bell and my students, in awe, taking their seats. My wandering eyes followed the trees in the windows…tree leaves of ruby and scarlet and tangerine. It was enchanting. Once in a while I would be pulled out of my daydreaming state as June reprimanded one of my students.
Now the tours are given by other members of the family. On this day is it Claudia Smith who welcomes us smiling from ear to ear. We all comment on the glorious weather and step over the threshold into 1877. It is as it was. Perfect. The books are lined up on bookshelves, lunch pails ready to be taken out to sit under the old trees, cursive writing on the board (is that still June’s handwriting?) and desks waiting for students. It is magical. It is beautiful. It wasn’t always so. This school, along with most one room schoolhouses in America, fell into disrepair and neglect. The Collins School was saved by the Collins family. They had donated the land originally for the school and in 1947 June bought the property and restored it with her family and friends. It is now a non-profit 501(c)(3) which means it can accept donations for preservation.
I walk quietly amongst the past; reading the names of all the former teachers, smile at the class photos of those long gone, and pull out a McGuffy reader to check out the lessons. We thank Claudia for the tour, but I turn back and ask if she would ring the school bell for me so I can record it. She goes in to ring the bell, but I fumble too long and miss it. She comes out with a thumbs up, and I ask her nicely to do it again. She does.
We walk across the lawn and choose fresh peach cobbler with ice cream. We place our donations in the old-fashioned ice cream bucket at the end of the table. The tables are in the shade and we sit and chat with folks. I combine the old with the new as I put up a photo on Facebook inviting everyone to come out and share in this event.
Thomas Jefferson had the first ice cream social in the White House in 1802. It caught on in the late 1800’s in the mid-west as a social gathering with fund raising in mind. When I bought my house fifteen years ago this summer, the home owners, Randy and Shannon Wallace, had an ice cream social in their/my garden to welcome me to the neighborhood. It was a lovely occasion. Perhaps it is time to have another one?
Kathy and I are reluctant to leave, but there are other obligations on this beautiful day. As we walk back into the sun, into our century, I turn back. The Collins family is still smiling, serving, talking, preserving.
This beautiful school house sits in the summer sun and the snows of winter waiting for you to visit. Take the kids and the grandparents. The doors are open from 2-5 on August 13, 20, and 27. We are so fortunate to have a piece of American history just a few miles up the road.
And maybe, just maybe, Claudia will ring the bell for you.