Childhood sweethearts return to the area they grew up in to return the town’s historic — but deteriorating — country store to its former glory.
No, I’m not pitching a new Hallmark movie (but hey — if you want the screenplay, feel free to call). This is the real-life story of Daryl and Amy Lenhardt, and their epic quest to “restore the store,” i.e., the nearly 100-year-old Whiskey Hill Store across the street from Ninety-One School in Hubbard.
The store was actually the original Ninety-One School — then known as Whiskey Hill School — and those familiar with the architecture of stick-built schoolhouses from the early 20th century will easily spot the similarities.
The one-room school building served the children of the unincorporated community — named after a legendary, and possibly apocryphal, whiskey still that the locals swear existed just over yonder during Prohibition.
Many of the locals — including the Lenhardts — claim to have found the rotten remnants of the illegal distillery, buried deep in the woods, at one point or another.
The original school house was moved across the street in 1949 when the new brick building was first built. It was then given new purpose as a store and residence.
But there are plenty of old-timers who remember — or even attended classes — at the Whiskey Hill Store when it was still a school.
“Daryl’s dad went to school in this building,” Amy said, standing in the old store last week. “It has a lot of meaning to the community. We have people stop by almost daily — several times a week, for sure — just to say how excited they are to see something happening with it.”
They also offer to help.
“We’ve had people put in over 300 hours of volunteer time since the winter,” said Daryl, whose family owns Lenhardt Airpark — about a quarter-mile up the road. “There’s been some pretty impressive interest from the community.”
The Lenhardts told the story of a sausage maker from Bend who showed up in answer to Amy’s Facebook post last winter to dismantle and take ownership of the store’s massive, 30-square-foot cooler.
When the job proved far more than he could handle, total strangers from the community answered yet another — far more frantic — Facebook post. They came on a cold, dark December night, just to lend a hand.
That’s just kind of how things go around here. And the Lenhardts know that, because this is home to them — in every sense of the word.
“I grew up a mile that way; he grew up a half-mile that way,” Amy said, pointing this way and that. “There’s just all kinds of history here for us and for the community, and in general, the community’s just really, really excited.”
The Lenhardts can barely kick a brick in the old store without uncovering some piece of history from either their family or another one prominent in the Whiskey Hill community: a Kenagy, a Yoder, or maybe an Owings.
Earlier this year, Daryl was in the process of removing the building’s original plumbing when he found an old pipe signed, “J.S. Fisher, from Donald, O.” The man turned out to be his great-great-uncle (by marriage).
It’s impossible not to uncover history with the work the Lenhardts are doing.
“We’ve cleared the property, cleared a lot of the old stuff,” Daryl said. “We got rid of most of the old plumbing, old electrical, old cast iron stuff.”
Demolishing the property’s sagging porch was a historical exercise in itself.
“We found all kinds of bottles and things,” he said. “Soda bottles from a drink they were making in Salem back in the ’50s, that they were selling here at the time.”
In addition to the physical restoration inside and out, the Lenhardts have an ambitious vision for how they intend to use the historic property.
Once complete, the Whiskey Hill Store will feature a dine-in cafe and sandwich shop as well as a drive-up coffee window built into the original belltower. It will also have sales of some food, retail and gift items, and restored antique furniture (Amy’s passion and profession).
The schoolhouse motif will be restored as well, with some very nods nods to the property’s roots in its interior design. Finally, the attached living quarters will be rebuilt as a home for Daryl and Amy, as well as a suite of rooms that can be rented out as a bed and breakfast.
To check in on the Lenhardts’ progress and support their efforts to “Restore the Store,” follow the Whiskey Hill Store on Facebook.
Hear more from Daryl and Amy Lenhardt on Episode 202 of Now Hear This: Canby, “Whiskey Business”: