Octagonal schoolhouse to be meeting space, pottery display site

DOWNSVILLE - What is believed to be the only octagonal schoolhouse in the Midwest has a new name and is ringing in a new era as a community meeting place.

John Thomas and his wife, Kathy Ruggles, in July 2007 bought the former Downsville one-room schoolhouse that is believed to have been built in the late 1800s for early elementary grades. It was used for about 50 years as a school.

They moved the roughly 800-square-foot school about a mile from its home along Highway C to the couple's home at the Dunn County Pottery site next to The Creamery restaurant. Thomas is a potter, and he owns Dunn County Pottery, E4606 Highway C, Downsville.

After replacing floor joists, removing wall plaster and replacing it with foam insulation and drywall, the couple have remodeled the schoolhouse to allow for a community meeting space as well as a showroom for Thomas' pottery and other local craft works. They also added antique doors for a bathroom, the front door and a storage area.

The floor in the schoolhouse, now named Simply Dunn, a Place for Gifts, Ideas and Space, is the original hardwood maple.

Thomas said he saw one beam in the schoolhouse marked 1894 with the initials K.S. on it for the Knapp Stout Lumber Co.

"It is part of the history," Thomas said. "We had already taken away some of the history by moving off-site and by putting on a different door and a new porch."

The original windows and light fixtures are still in the building.

The schoolhouse overlooks the Red Cedar Valley Oxbow Ponds. In the front of the building Ruggles planted over 1,000 prairie plants.

"I really want people to start seeing prairies," she said.

Many who enter the schoolhouse immediately enjoy the view over the ponds.

There is a kitchen area as well in the building, Ruggles noted.

A grand opening of Simply Dunn is planned from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Refreshments will be served with musical entertainment.

The space lends itself to community events, workshops and classes, Ruggles said, noting a rental fee will be charged but has not been set.

"One of the reasons we decided to save it is this schoolhouse is part of the community," Ruggles said. "It was the community schoolhouse. Our intent is to have it available to the community."

Powers can be reached at 715-556-9018 or pamela. powers@ecpc.com.

If You Go

What: Simply Dunn open house.

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Where: E4606 Highway C, Downsville.

Cost: Free.

Info: www.dunncountypottery.com or (715) 664-8368.

n A holiday open house is planned for noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, and Sunday, Dec. 5 at Simply Dunn.