The hilly country in Wisconsin’s Dunn County reminded me of the hills and mountains of my birthplace of El Salvador.
I loved to take drives through that area of flowing trout streams, spectacular fall scenery and historic railways, which are now bike trails along the Red Cedar and Chippewa rivers.
More than 20 years ago, my wife and I were driving through that area on scenic County Road Z south of Menomonie when she yelled, “Stop the car. Back up.” What she saw, barely visible among the sumac and the poison oak, was an abandoned, one-room schoolhouse atop a hill. It had a “for sale” sign on the door that had been there so long that the phone number had washed away. The building was a wreck. We could see through broken glass that it had become home to wildlife, birds, squirrels, mice and bumblebees. The stone foundation had been undermined, and collapsed in places.
However, the building’s proportions, large windows and a steep roof that was once crowned by a bell tower were all just right. Its bones had lasted more than 100 years, and it appeared to have some life left.
We ask around and found the farmer who owned the property. His thought was someone would buy it to tear down and build new. Quick negotiations led to a handshake deal on the Hay Creek Schoolhouse, which was built in 1886 and functioned until 1962. The original accounting ledger kept by the farmer’s great-great grandmother had the construction cost at $570.
Thus began for me a long restoration project that continues to this day. The list of tasks is long, done with enjoyment and no deadline in mind.
Human sounds are few and distant. The road is seldom traveled. The sunsets are spectacular and bird life abundant, including sandhill cranes, wild turkeys, pheasants, humming birds, finches and blue birds.
We go for the frog choir at Hay Creek across the road at dusk, the fireflies at night, and the feeling of cool moss on bare feet on a warm day.
Emilio Bettaglio, Minneapolis