When a May storm damaged the roof and ceiling of an old brick building they owned near the intersection of Md. 97 and Stone Road, it didn’t take Carroll and Betty Bish, of Westminster, long to realize they wanted it fixed before winter weather could foul the building.
There were the pragmatic issues, of course, the fact that the elements would ruin the materials the couple stored in the building for use in their rental apartments in the air, paint and other such things, according to Betty.
But then there was the social-historic dimension, which Betty said became apparent as soon as they began removing portions of the damaged roof.
“People were afraid we were tearing it down,” she said. “Some of their ancestors went to school there.”
In a prior life, that little building had been one of Carroll County’s one-room schoolhouses, known as Mount Pleasant Academy.
“It was built around 1840 or 1850,” said John Frock, a friend of the Bish family who provided support and some equipment during an effort to restore the old school structure.
It was Carroll’s great-grandfather, John Crouse, who donated the land and the materials to the county in order to construct the schoolhouse, Betty added. Carroll’s mother, Airy Crouse, taught there before she married William Bish, according to Betty.
It was a cloudy and at times drizzly morning Saturday, but that was no big hurdle for the volunteer laborers working on the Habitat for Humanity of Carroll County build on the unit block of South Court Street, in Westminster. The crew was inside, painting.
“We think around 1925 is when they quit using it, when they built Charles Carroll. I think it wound up being a bus stop, because the kids were used to walking there,” Frock said. “[Carroll’s] father bought it back from the county, probably around 1925, after the county stopped using it.”
After that, the former schoolhouse spent decades as a storage building for the Mount Pleasant Packing Company, the food canning business Carroll, born in 1931, would operate almost through the end of the century.
“The factory was across the road. Tomatoes was one of the main products and hominy,” Betty said. “During the war, people brought things there like corn, and they did some custom work for people who didn’t know how to can.”
The Bishes have no plans to convert the building into any sort of museum or historical site referencing its schoolyard past, but the couple certainly wanted to keep the structure around, both as a community landmark and as a useful storage unit. Carroll said he made around 15 phone calls looking for a contractor before they found the right company.
“We had only one person who thought they were interested in the job, but we could never have afforded them,” Betty said.
But then Frock came upon Hollow Ridge Construction.
“There’s some Amish families [that] buy farms over there just on the Pennsylvania side of Lineboro,” he said. “We started asking around and that’s how we came up with these guys.”
The three Amish men arrived over the summer to begin cleaning out the old schoolhouse and fixing the roof, and their work ethic impressed, according to Betty.
“Nobody around here would have worked like they did. They didn’t talk among themselves, they worked and worked and worked. They didn’t take breaks,” she said. “They had the garb of their sect. They were driven — they didn’t drive.”
“Straw hats and black garb suspenders,” Frock added.
He noted the Amish crew actually had a special phone they used to communicate about the job.
“They had a house phone, but they had an inverter in the truck to make 110 electronic. Then they charged the phone with that and then they had some kind of box in the truck with them that allowed them to use this house phone as like a cell phone,” Frock said. “He can do this because it’s for the business. … He can’t call his wife.”
Complicated phone operations or not, the Hollow Ridge team for the roof repaired, despite heat and rain at the time, Betty said. And while the distant future of the building remains to be seen, she and Carroll are glad for use of it for storage again.