The school bell rang loudly and clearly Sunday to mark the restoration of the landmark one-room Swain School house, about five miles south of Chillicothe.
Livingston County's Liberty 4-H Club members and their families marked a yearlong renovation of the 1878 building that has served as the club's meeting place for about six decades. The Community Homebuilders Extension Club bought the school in 1948.
The Missouri 4-H Foundation, Doane Endowment, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and William Kemper Foundation, aided by generous contributions and efforts of 4-H members and individuals, provided funding to restore the historic structure.
Members of the 4-H Club hired a group to pour a new foundation for the structure in July 2011. The building was moved to the new foundation. Members and their families worked to secure funds through grants and fundraising totaling approximately $40,000, and invested 400 adult and 440 youth volunteer-hours to renovate the structure. The inside of the building was painted and new siding, windows and a heater breathed new life into the building. The renovation also included repairs to the outhouse and the addition of a sidewalk and flagpole. The new heater allows meetings to be held year-round.
There are 45 members of the Liberty 4-H Club. They represent 21 families; most live within a 5-mile radius of the schoolhouse. For three consecutive years, the club has received the "Contest Day" and "Move Across Missouri" awards for the most participation of any of the 14 clubs in Livingston County. The club meets at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month.
The school was named for Rev. Swain, a Chillicothe preacher and landowner. Few records of the school exist, but according to a publication by the Community Homebuilders Extension Club, in 1899 a man named William Dorney was president of the board, and the teacher, Berta Jones, was paid $35 per month. According to the publication, 32 families paid property taxes in 1899 and by 1901 the number had decreased to 25 families.
Early Missouri schools not only provided children with an education but also served as the social center for rural communities. The schoolhouse was a gathering place for box suppers, political events and church meetings, and helped to knit together the scattered residents of rural communities. There were 91 rural schools in Livingston County at one time.
Sunday's program included a PowerPoint presentation by Club President Liberty Cox, comments by Shaun Murphy and Ina Fields, representing University of Missouri Extension, and songs sung by the 4-H members. Club Co-Leader Terria Cox recognized individuals who contributed to the restoration project. The floor was then opened for those in attendance to share memories about Liberty 4-H Club and Swain School.
Contributors recognized included Mervyn Jenkins Foundation, Missouri 4-H Foundation (Kemper and Pioneer grants), MFA Company, Building Our American Communities, Dale Whiteside and Charlie Stedem families, and the Liberty 4-H families and community.
Liberty 4-H Club officers are President Liberty Cox, Vice President Emma Leamer, Secretary Harlie Jones, Treasurer Krystalyn Peel, Historian Chloe Funk, Reporter Carson Anderson, Reporter Logan Potts, Council representatives Clayton Campbell and Julian Stimpson, and Game Leader Hannah Leamer.
There are 104,157 youth between ages 5 and 18 who participate in Missouri 4-H, a volunteer-led organization that uses hands-on learning experiences to teach subject matter and life skills such as cooperation, leadership and decision-making. The H's stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health.
Missouri 4-H is sponsored by the University of Missouri Extension in partnership with the Lincoln University Extension, and state, federal and county government in each Missouri County. Nationally, 4-H is part of the Cooperative Extension System of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Additionally, the Missouri 4-H Foundation raises more than $800,000 annually from private sources, member fees and investment income to support Missouri 4-H programs.
For more information, go to www.extension.missouri.edu/4hor contact your local MU Extension office.