POWNAL, Vt. -- In the mid-1800s, two United States presidents -- James Garfield and Chester Arthur -- are believed to have taught in the classroom of Pownal's Oak Hill School.
Half a century later, another historical figure of Pownal history, Addie Card, would sit behind a desk in the classroom of Oak Hill School until age 10, when she left school to begin working in a cotton mill. Addie was photographed at that mill two years later by Lewis Hine as part of his series documenting child labor. The photograph was later made into a stamp commemorating the child labor law's passage. An earlier photograph taken inside the school of the class of 1908, which would have been Addie's last year at Oak Hill, is believed to include Addie.
The thought of what may happen to the building that has such a historical significance is a large reason Scott and Linda Bernard purchased the dilapidated property from Pownal School District.
It is also why the Bernards plan to gut, renovate and restore the building to its original look as they transform it into three studio apartments.
"We feel very strongly about keeping it in the historical character of the town ... a big reason we bought the building is because we wanted to save it," Scott said recently.
"It's a historical building and a big part of Pownal history, so respecting the architectural integrity and historical significance of the property is important," Linda said in an interview last May, after signing the purchase and sale agreement.
The intent was to finalize the $65,000 sale in July. However, the transaction was delayed nearly a year after a rusty, 500-gallon underground oil tank and contaminated soil were found on the property. The finding led the Agency of Natural Resources to require testing of ground samples from the property and all of the petroleum-contaminated soil to be removed.
With the pollution problems now resolved and the sale final, the Bernards have already begun renovations.
"We're gutting it to the outside walls. It will be re-sided, new windows, new doors, Sheetrock. Everything," Scott said.
Last fall, the Bernards' daughter, an architect living in Los Angeles, designed the interior of the building, again keeping the integrity of what the building may have looked like 200 years ago based on old photographs.
Historic preservation is not new to the Bernards, who last spring restored a barn on their property in Shaftsbury that dated back to 1760. Before that, they were involved in restoring an old school house in North Bennington.
"We're just really committed to saving buildings," Linda said.
The Pownal School Board received approval from voters to sell the building last year after looking to get rid of the property that had most recently housed the Black World War II History Museum.
With no use for the building, and no nonprofits willing to take on the expense of maintaining it, the school board decided to put it on the market last spring. Days later, the Bernards came forward.
Linda said she's driven past and admired the building on her way to work at Pine Cobble in Williamstown for decades.
"I've always loved the building. It's a Greek revival school house," Linda said. "I think the building's beautiful. It needs some tender loving care and that's what we're going to do."