OSWEGO, NY – Visiting the Oâ€™Mara Welcome Center on Route 104 in Oswego is truly a step back in time.
As you admire the restored one-room schoolhouse it is difficult to imagine that it was once an abandoned building that was used as a chicken coop.
Originally built in 1830, just off Franklin Avenue in Oswego, the building was relocated in 1862 to Thompson Road, and eventually closed by the school district in 1913.
Thanks to the efforts of faculty and students at SUNY Oswego and concerned community members, the building was relocated once again to its current site on Route 104 just west of downtown Oswego.
In the past two years, thanks to the efforts of the SUNY Oswego Maintenance Department, the Oâ€™Mara Welcome Center has seen a number of improvements including new windows and shutters, new siding, a new roof and belfry and a new entrance with a handicap accessible ramp.
Co-coordinator of the Oâ€™Mara Center, Arlene Johnson was pleased with the improvements and praised the workers for their concern for the center and their quality craftsmanship.
â€œThe SUNY Oswego Maintenance Department has been very good to us. They did a wonderful job. They even built new shelves for our brochures and used siding that had an aged look to complement the outside of the building,â€ she said.
To accurately portray the look and feel of a turn of the century one-room schoolhouse the Oâ€™Mara Center includes antique school desks, a wood stove, a display of vintage books and a map dating back to 1817.
The latest additions, mannequins of a student and a teacher, which are outfitted in attire appropriate for the late 1800s, are a perfect complement.
â€œDorothy Smith of New Haven was kind enough to donate the mannequins to us,â€ said Johnson. â€œWe built stands to display the mannequins and thanks to a donation from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, I was able to purchase material and make dresses that portray the styles of the late 1800s.â€
When designing the dresses for the mannequins, Johnson had to keep in mind the list of rules that teachers had to adhere to at the turn of the century; dresses could not be bright colors, they must wear at least two petticoats, and dresses could not be more than two inches above the ankle, just to name a few.
â€œThese rules may sound odd today. But it was a different world back then,â€ she said.
Working in collaboration with the Greater Oswego-Fulton Chamber of Commerce and the County of Oswego, the Oâ€™Mara Welcome Center distributes brochures and information on what to see and do not only in Oswego but in the county and the state as well.
â€œThe chamber does an excellent job of keeping our shelves stocked with plenty of information for our many visitors. People may be surprised to know that we see hundreds of visitors each summer from all over the world. In addition to the many people we welcome from the United States and Canada weâ€™ve also had visitors from Brazil, Germany, China, and the Netherlands,â€ said Johnson.
While the center is an informative stop for visitors, it also serves as a museum as the center welcomes families, school children and community members to stop in and see for themselves what it was like to attend a one-room schoolhouse.
â€œI enjoy educating our visitors and seeing the expressions on their faces when they see the inside of the schoolhouse. The children especially enjoy sitting at the desks and ringing the bell. It is hard for them to envision coming to a school with eight grades all in the same room,â€ said Johnson.
The center is staffed entirely by volunteers from RSVP.
For Johnson, working as a volunteer at the former one-room schoolhouse is a labor of love that brings back fond memories.
â€œI went to a one-room schoolhouse and I can talk to them about my experiences. Itâ€™s nice to share our heritage with our visitors and also tell them of the many interesting and exciting things they can enjoy today in our area,â€ she said.
Johnson added that she would like to see more individuals volunteer to be hosts at the center.
â€œI invite community members to stop in and experience the joy and satisfaction of volunteering at the center,â€ she said.
The center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
For more information, call Helen Milam at 312-2317.