Local DAR chapter buys Lay schoolhouse, envisions museum
Shannan Koucherik stood Sunday outside the one-room schoolhouse in Lay, admiring the building and recalling her first visit to the site more than a year ago.
“I just fell in love with it,” Koucherik said. “The wind was blowing through the broken windows and there were shreds of curtains still up.
“I just thought, ‘This could really be something.’”
Although Koucherik sees potential in the schoolhouse, the building has fallen on hard times.
The paint has peeled, roof shingles are largely gone and windows Koucherik found to be charming have since been shuttered with particleboard.
Inside, the plaster ceiling is crumbling, the flooring is cracked and bird droppings are scattered about.
The lone vestige of the school’s better days is the vintage blackboard that spans the school’s northern wall.
“There are very few one-room schoolhouses left, so it’s critical,” she said.
By “critical,” Koucherik was referring to efforts to save the building.
Koucherik is regent of the Augusta Wallihan Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her organization recently acquired the dilapidated schoolhouse and is pursuing plans to restore the building and turn it into a museum.
“We want to make more of the history of Northwestern Colorado accessible,” she said.
The 100-year-old schoolhouse was once a hotbed of activity in a thriving community, Koucherik said.
The schoolhouse not only served as an education facility, but it was also a community event center for a town that once had a population of roughly 200.
“Lay predates Craig,” Koucherik said.
Koucherik said the Lay area was home to some important Coloradans, including A.G. and Augusta Wallihan, and former Colorado Gov. Edwin Johnson.
The schoolhouse was built in 1910 and served local children until 1959, Koucherik said. In 1961, the school district sold the building to the Lay Community Association.
The Lay Community Association remained active until 1982. Around that time, the building was vacated, and thus began its long slide into disrepair.
In 2009, after Koucherik visited the site, the Augusta Wallihan Chapter began tracking down members of the defunct Lay Community Association.
“It was a real tangled thing,” she said. “They hadn’t been doing anything since the mid-80s. The members — most of them — had moved away.”
During the search, Koucherik learned that the Lay Community Association had given the building to Lou Wyman, owner of the Wyman Museum, three years earlier.
Wyman had plans to relocate the building to the grounds of his museum in Craig.
Koucherik said she contacted Wyman and explained the DAR’s plans for revitalizing the school.
“(Wyman) said go for it,” Koucherik said.
Wyman said he’s glad the schoolhouse will be in good hands.
“That’ll be good, if they can get something done with it,” he said of the DAR’s efforts. “I don’t care who saves it. I’ll look for another (one-room schoolhouse).
“I’ve found two or three, but every time I find one, then someone else wants it.”
After Wyman gave up his stake to the Lay schoolhouse, the DAR was free to purchase it.
“We paid $10,” Koucherik said.
Koucherik said there was one final wrinkle in DAR purchasing the building.
She expressed that detail to the Moffat County School Board during the board’s regular meeting Thursday.
“The 1961 deed states that if the Lay Community Association ever sells the building, all the proceeds have to go to the school district,” Koucherik said to the board. “We have a check here from the Lay Community Association to the Moffat County School District for $10.”
Superintendent Joe Petrone said he was excited by the transaction.
“I was delighted,” he said. “It’s something (the DAR) can turn into a location to honor that community. I can see us bringing classrooms there, perhaps.”
The next step for the DAR is to stabilize the building and prepare it for the winter, which includes fixing gaps in the roof.Then, the group will pursue grants, donations and volunteer support. The final step will be to open a museum featuring historical photographs of Lay and its notable residents.
“We call it a mini-museum,” Koucherik said.
Despite the building’s current appearance, Koucherik said the DAR got its money’s worth in the $10 purchase, but she acknowledges there might be detractors.
“There are people who might debate that,” she said of the building’s worthiness. “The thing is, it’s 100 years old and the ridgeline is still dead straight.
“We’re hoping we can bring it back. I think we can.”