Oil Springs School is result of community visioning
The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque’s mission is to strengthen communities and inspire giving. Both those philosophies are embodied by the opening of the Oil Springs School in Harpers Ferry this fall.
A 2015 community visioning process the Foundation facilitated in Harpers Ferry identified preserving the town's heritage as a priority. “We’d always had our eye on this school. It sat out by Mohn’s Fish Market — it was nestled there, in the woods,” says Dr. Jane Hasek, president of the Harpers Ferry Area Heritage Society. The Oil Springs School is a one-room schoolhouse estimated to be at least 145 years old. In 2016, the Hawes family of Harpers Ferry donated the school to the Heritage Society. The school was placed on land near a riverside park with a lease made possible by the Martelle family.
In less than a year, the Heritage Society had secured the funds to relocate and renovate the historic school house. A grant from the Allamakee County Community Foundation (ACCF), an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque (CFGD), provided $6,000 toward the project – and the citizens of Harpers Ferry took it from there. From rebuilding the porch to installing new glass in the original six-pane window frames, Harpers Ferry residents Wayne Hasek and Pat Cota, a member of the ACCF board, were instrumental in rehabilitating the structure. “We painted all summer,” smiles Karen Soper, a Heritage Society board member who was active in the 2015 visioning process. Thanks to the help of many, the Oil Springs School is ready for its grand opening this fall.
The school now stands near Tillinghast Park, bearing fresh paint on its shiplap ceilings and walls, and furnished with donated antique school desks, historic books, and blackboards sourced from other notable schools in the area.
“We did a survey specifically for the museum and found a lot of support for preserving the history - the river lore of the small towns around Harpers; the remaining historic buildings. The depot, the creamery, none of those are here anymore and so preserving the history really became important to people,” says Hasek.
Beyond preserving history, the visioning process galvanized the community over a shared love of Harpers Ferry and the desire to see the town prosper. The organized visioning was part of a Philanthropic Tools project pursued by local champions and supported by CFGD training and technical assistance. Three more themes became apparent and were subsequently addressed: A splash pad was developed to attract young families; a housing survey was completed, and a community-wide brochure was created to market Harpers Ferry and its businesses in surrounding communities.
CFGD assisted in the creation of that brochure and as well as a website. “We’re the locals and we get involved, but you need an objective facilitator. That’s what the Community Foundation does best,” explains Hasek, who serves on the CFGD board of directors as an affiliate foundation representative from the rural region served by CFGD.
Nearly one-third of the small town’s population showed up to help shape the future of their community over the course of that three-month visioning process, and they are still showing up. “The projects have pulled us together. It’s taken more and more people getting involved. New families have come in and taken care of parts,” says Hasek. “Everybody just kind of pitches in.” From a local painter creating artwork on buildings, to the women that pull weeds from the community flower beds, people are helping Harpers Ferry thrive in the ways that suit their talents.