Preserving the past

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150-year-old schoolhouse gets some TLC

By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

James Brown had to think hard about what he likes about working on the old Shell Pond School.
“It hasn’t hit me yet. It hasn’t jelled,” the 56-year-old carpenter said, gripping a handsaw and standing in front of a pile of salvaged timber. “That’s a tough question. It’s such a simple structure. What it can become, I guess. That’s what it’s about.”
Built in 1873 by sawmill owner John Francis McDonell as a school for his children, the Shell Pond School is as old as some of the massive, sprawling oaks that shade and conceal most of its East side from County Road 335.
“It’s the oldest public building in Levy County, although it’s private now,” Brown said about the school he’s been working to preserve for the last two years.
Dr. Hugh Popenoe bought the building, along with 220 surrounding acres a few miles outside of Raleigh, in the mid 1960s. It served as a public school until about 40 years prior.

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