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Friendship School gets help from friends

Annie Ruth Williams inspects a stage backdrop still in use at the Friendship School contains advertisments for area businesses that have not been in operation since the 1940s. The old school and voting house is in desperate need of repair and has attracted the attention of some former residents and students.

Photo by Derek Brown

The Friendship Community of Butler County didn't get its name by accident, so when some area residents noticed an old friend suffering from decay they decided to do something about it.

The Friendship School was built around 1924, although no one really knows for sure, and educated students in and around the small community for many years.

However, since the 1950s the building has been virtually unused, except as a voting house and part-time community center, and some former students are working toward giving this Butler County landmark the facelift it deserves.

Howard Salter was born in the Friendship Community in 1923 and attended school there from 1930 until 1937. Going to school in a three-room building was a different experience from what students today are used to, he says, but those were different times.

"There was no plumbing when it was originally built, so everybody had to use the outhouse," Salter said. There was no water available at the site for many years either, so people had to bring drinking water from their homes until a well was dug."

The old school is positioned just off County Road 45, and Salter said at the time travelling the 13 or so miles into Greenville was an all-day affair.

"There was no bus service back then," he said. "So people had to come to school in a mule driven wagon. A lot of them came from as far as three or four miles away which was quite a distance back then."

Over the years, the building has begun to decay and recently has required quite a bit of work to keep it going.

Salter said he became interested in restoring the Friendship School after the death of his sister, Elizabeth Salter, who had taken the old building on as a pet project. Salter said Elizabeth had taken an active interest in forming a committee to look after the landmark, but after her death no one seemed to be interested.

"I discovered that a couple of local people, Gertrude and Laine Jones, were paying all the bills for electricity and general maintenance out of their own pockets," he said. "And, I knew we had to raise some money for some way to pay those bills and keep the center open."

Salter and his friends began writing letters to alumni of the Friendship School to solicit donations for the old building's repair and upkeep. And after a few months, the group was able to raise about $1,600. Coupled with a little more money received from the state to help keep voting houses in repair, the friends of the Friendship School were able to repair the roof and do some general carpentry work that was sorely needed.

One donor, Rufus "Bob" Lansdon, donated some cedar lumber that was used to repair the wellhouse, and others provided a little cash, but Salter said even more money is needed to help keep the landmark from deteriorating.

Salter said the building is desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint, which could cost more than $3,000, and other repairs are also needed which will also cost money.

"There are lots of people who went to school out here who now live many miles away," Salter said. "We want to get the word out about what we're trying to do here so we can preserve this important part of our heritage."

Salter said the project has received some help from county commissioners Joe Hendrix and Tex Kervin, and he hopes to see more support in the near future.

Although the building's exterior is in need of repair, the inside of the building seems to be in good condition.

A stage backdrop from the 1940s still exists and is in good condition. The backdrop served as one of the few advertising outlets during those days, and advertisments from businesses still in operation and some no longer around are still visible on the fabric.

The original three rooms are still intact, and plumbing was added later to provide running water and bathroom facilities inside.

The original well still exists, sitting close to the road, and the wellhouse has been restored using the donated lumber. However, there is still much work to be done.

Salter said anyone wishing to make a contribution to the Friendship School repairs can contact him at 382-5987 for more information.

Salter said he wanted to thank everyone who has donated so far, and hopes that others will recognize the value of this Butler County Landmark.