GREENVILLE—Matt Armold fell in love with the property he purchased in March 2017, even more so after he learned of its history.
Yes, he is the owner of the former Sugar Valley School, one of the many one-room schools that educated students in Darke County at one time.
“I did about a month’s worth of work and then moved in,” he said. “There was a lot of stuff that needed to be done…lots of cleaning, new appliances, countertops. Everything needed painted, and the outside was in definite need of a little affection. The outhouse, strangely enough, was one of the selling features.”
He continued, “I loved the fact that there was still an original structure, besides the schoolhouse, on the property. Then, once I moved in, I found out that the woodshed was also very old. The history of the property, and the property in general, just need a lot of love and affection when I purchased it. Truthfully, it still does need a lot. It’s a constant work in progress.”
He said he has not had any past students randomly stop by since he moved in.
“But I have helped one where I work as an optician, who gave me a lot of info on the property,” Armold said. “And, my mom, a home health aide, took care of a woman that went to school in my house.”
Armold said he purchased the home from his neighbor, Ron Goodpaster.
The one-room school’s wood-burning stove was situated where his kitchen table now stands. Nearby is a little one-room-school-themed nook he created.
“I bought the school desk at an old schoolhouse near Eaton at a garage sale,” he pointed out.
Surrounding that desk is a small blackboard slate, a lamp in the window which features several books stacked underneath. It sits on the window sill. And, there is also a picnic lunch basket nearby.
Also featured in his kitchen is an old hutch containing family heirlooms and other items.
Armold, said new cabinets and a new countertop were put in.
He also shined up the floors and the walls of the kitchen.
“When I first moved in, I didn’t know what to do for anything,” he said. ” I didn’t even know anything about this school before I bought it.”
The Armold home now features electric baseboard heat.
“I hardly use the air-conditioner in the summertime,” he said. “This past winter, the pipes busted and some friends who were knowledgeable on such a thing helped me. I’m so claustrophobic I can’t crawl in the crawl space.”
He has even had help from friends on the painting that has been done in his home.
“That was the biggest task,” Armold said.
The favorite part of his new adventure is the history of it.
“When I first saw the property I didn’t like it, but the outhouse had a lot of potential and now it’s a pottery barn,” he said. “I had never even been down this road (Wildcat, just a quarter mile off of State Route 571-West).”
Those who knows Armold, knows he has the knack for decorating. So he continues that tradition and decorates his new property outside for Christmas, Halloween and harvest time.
Other parts of the interior include an attic, the living room which features the furniture he brought with him into the new ownership; two bedrooms; and a laundry room…all on one acre.
He admitted that he spends a lot of his spare time tending to the huge lawn.
“It seems like I mow everyday,” he said. “This past fall, I planted weeping willow trees and am now just maintaining them.”
The bachelor shares his home there with his two dogs and his cat.
Armold has worked at Walmart for the past 23 years and been an optician there for five years. The 40-year-old is a 2001 graduate of Mississinawa Valley High School.
He said he had saved for a while for the purchase of a new home. The house was built in 1892 and was known as Greenville Township School District No. 17, aka Sugar Valley School.
According to some historical data Armold was given, Darke County saw a growth in one-room schools, in the mid-1800s. One of them, of course, was Sugar Valley.
The current brick building was opened and remained a school until 1956, when it closed and students began attending the new Washington School. After the closure, the building was maintained by its friends until sold at auction June 1988, reportedly to Chuck Kleem, who had it converted into a two-bedroom residence.
Some of the memories were put in a booklet that was given to Armold. It mentions things like the outdoor pump and games that were played over the years.
The building featured a girls cloakroom on one side of the room and a boys cloakroom on the other side near the entrance door. And, outside the girls’ outhouse was located on one side of the house and the boys’ on the other side.
At that time there were no fire codes required, it was noted in the booklet.
The blackboard was black, not green or white, and each week students were assigned to wash the boards and dust the erasers.
The school desks were works of art, it was noted, where generations of boys carved initialed hearts with arrows, stick figures and caricatures of family pets with pocket knives they brought with them to school.
All eight grades were taught at the school. And, there were spelling bees and ciphering matches especially in inclement weather when the children could not go outside to play.
Even PTA meetings were held back then and said to be a social event for a lot of parents during the Depression. A meeting, which also included the children, apparently started with a prayer, and afterwards, some entertainment and dessert were featured.
In that booklet, one of the former students, Ilona Jekabsons Reif, wrote she was sure her daughter thought she lived a kind of “Little House on the Prairie Life” when she spoke of Sugar Valley.
“And in many ways it was,” Reif added.
She also remembered older students doing their more complicated lessons and helping the younger ones with flash cards.
At least one reunion was held following the closing of the school, according to the information Armold was given. It was originally set up to honor the school’s last teacher, Mrs. Harold (Ruth) Folkerth, and renew old friendships. However it turned into more than that with 125 people attending the event.
This reporter attended the sale of Sugar Valley School in 1988. Among former students attending were George and Ruby Edgers, brothers Kermit and Gary Foureman and Deloris McGuire and Gene Hurt with Mara Jekabson Cox arriving after the sale.
The one-room property was owned by Betty and Lowell VanTilburgh since the early 1970s, went to Kleem, of Union city, the highest of six bidders, for $15,000. Auctioneers for the day were Rodney Martino, Harold Ashman and Verla Roll Jr.
While auctioneering, Martino reported that the house had a heating plant inside, a 200-amp electric service underground and a well drilled in 1977. The school bell that day was sold to Gary Foureman, who didn’t want it to wind up at a flea market when it could be at his place down the road. And, it remains there today.