Along Princeton Road, surrounded by upscale housing developments and modern schools, the one-room Hughes School stands as a window into Liberty Township’s past.

Opened in 1887, the red brick school was used to educate hundreds of children until it was closed in 1922 and eventually replaced by the adjoining Liberty Elementary School, now the Liberty Early Childhood School.

Thanks to the Liberty Township Historical Society, the Hughes School is still used for society monthly meetings and events and occasionally for real-life history lessons for elementary students.

“It was actually the project that led to the founding of the historical society,” says Liberty Township Fire Chief Paul Stumpf, president of the society. The Liberty Township Historical Society was organized in 1975.

The school had fallen into disrepair by the early 1970s and there was discussion about demolishing it. However, a group of local volunteers stepped in and lovingly restored it. Stumpf says the Garden Club and other groups joined forces to raise money for materials and donated labor for the project.

It took several years of effort and fund-raising to complete the restoration.

“We held rummage sales and bought chocolate chips in 55-gallon containers to repackage and sell to raise money,” he says.

There were some architectural challenges to overcome as well. The bell tower, which summoned farm kids to school for decades, had been removed and the interior had been split up into rooms, first for a custodian’s residence and later for storage.

With the help of Bruce Goetzman, University of Cincinnati architecture professor and historic preservation expert, and an old photo of the building, the bell tower was reconstructed on the roof. Several now-deceased volunteer craftsmen plastered and restored the building’s interior so that it looks much like it might have at the turn of the 19th century.

The student desks, blackboard and wainscoting were recycled from other old school buildings, but the floor and wood windows are original, Stumpf says.

A bell recovered from the attic of Liberty Elementary School was installed in the tower and can still be rung by a rope inside the front door.

“We have no proof, but we like to think the bell was originally in the building because it came from the Liberty school that replaced it,” says Stumpf.

The restored school was dedicated on June 14, 1976 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places that same year. Most of the school’s early history has been lost to time, but records indicate the land was plated for a school building, possibly a log cabin, as early as 1832.

The historical society’s efforts today are focused on collecting a video catalog of long-time township residents’ recollections. The school is open to the public in the spring for the Garden Club’s annual plant sale and in early December for a holiday open house and available for scout or school group tours.

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