When Mark family descendants met in Canby last weekend for the 98th annual family reunion, they had the joy of seeing the latest significant steps forward in the years-long renovation and repair of the Mark Prairie Schoolhouse — which was built by their ancestors in 1879 on the pioneer family’s land south of Canby.
The one-room country school closed and consolidated with Canby Schools in 1946. But since that time, it has continued to serve as a community center for the rural neighborhood until it was nearly flattened in the 2021 ice storm by a pair of 200-foot-tall oak trees that fell on the building.
Dedicated volunteers have worked tirelessly to rebuild the schoolhouse, with the help of Emerick Construction and many subcontractors. While the interior is still just a framed-in shell, organizers report that the outside looks like new, and best of all, is weather-tight.
Most of the roof was rebuilt by skilled carpenters with stick-built trusses; new roofing was laid, historic windows repaired, detailed woodwork replaced, and the finale: a new coat of sparkling white exterior paint was applied just last week.
This work was made possible with an estimated 4,000 volunteer hours and almost $200,000 raised in cash and in-kind donations, fundraisers, and grants. In addition to the board of directors’ wise decision to insure the building, the generosity of many donors has been critical to the renovation’s success.
Board members credit the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition, Helen E. Austin Pioneer Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, Kinsman Foundation, Lee H. and Marion B. Thompson Foundation, Roundhouse Foundation, Direct Link, and the Ford Family Foundation among the organizations that have awarded grant funds to the Mark Prairie Schoolhouse.
Recent grants from the Rotary Club of Canby and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors will also help work move forward, but organizers admit more donations and grant awards are still needed to raise the remaining $200,000 needed to complete the interior restoration.
In addition to a new septic system and side porch, interior work to be done includes all new electrical and plumbing with salvaged or vintage fixtures, installation of a low-impact HVAC system, refurbished original 1950s appliances, double oak doors from the downed trees, and meeting safety code requirements.
None of the original plumbing, lighting, or heating systems survived the impact of the trees, nor would they meet modern code requirements if they had. The walls and ceiling will be reclad in tongue-and-groove that was custom-milled locally to match the remaining paneling, kitchen cabinets will be rebuilt from salvaged parts, and the old-growth fir floors will be resealed.
“All work on the project has emphasized retaining the historic integrity of the building, both outside and in,” said Peggy Sigler, Mark Prairie Historical Society member and volunteer restoration project manager. “But continued use as a community center and event venue dictates that we upgrade to meet many current building codes, which have added significant costs to the project.
“We’re working to provide a safe and comfortable space and plan to continue to rent the site for public meetings and private events like weddings and reunions. The building capacity is 50 people, plus more on a nice day on the spacious wooded acreage. It will have an ADA restroom, small kitchen and charming, historic ambiance.”
A committee of volunteers has undertaken a market study and is drafting an operations plan. Modest rental proceeds will help maintain this Clackamas County Historic Landmark into the future and cover small overhead expenses.
While the initial, hoped-for completion date of August 2023 has come and gone, the Society expects to host the 99th annual Mark Family Reunion in a finished schoolhouse in 2024.
New members and volunteers with any and all skills (just as many are needed for computer skills as wielding a paintbrush) are encouraged to step up to help with this huge project.
Learn more about the Mark Prairie Schoolhouse, become a member, or make donations online at markprairiehistoricalsociety.org. Or, support the nonprofit’s GoFundMe campaign here.
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