FELLSMERE – For more than a decade, the City of Fellsmere has worked to save, preserve and restore the Old Fellsmere School.
On Saturday, the city celebrated not only its 100th anniversary but also the grand opening of the school.
“It’s more than just a school,” County Commissioner Wesley Davis told the crowd that assembled at the foot of the steps leading into the two-story schoolhouse. “It’s a cornerstone of the community. To be a part of it 100 years later is truly, truly humbling.”
Fellsmere Mayor Susan Adams christened the school with a thwack of a champagne bottle on one of the columns at the top of the steps.
The bottle shattered, sending champagne out with a spray.
“Mr. Fell is the reason why we’re here,” Adams told the crowd, referring to E. Nelson Fell, the founder of the city. “He was a visionary.”
Fell had a vision of a great farming community, with a demonstration farm known for growing nearly any produce at far larger sizes and weights than considered normal. Rough weather, flooding and a downturn in the economy stymied his plans.
“We tried to carry the banner for him,” Adams said.
Several of Fells’ descendents traveled from New Zealand, Canada and England to take part in the city’s celebration.
“We are truly delighted to be here,” said Dick Cobbold. “Thank you. We’re having such a nice time here.”
Longtime Fellsmere City Councilman and former Mayor Joel Tyson shared with the crowd how, in 1997 Marsh Landing Restaurant owner Fran Adams called him, telling him the city had to save the Old School – not tear it down like the then-council was considering.
“We’ve got to save it,” Tyson recalled Adams saying. “What on earth for?” he remembered replying.
“She chewed on me for 30 minutes,” Tyson said of that phone call, which made him a believer.
Fellow Fellsmere resident Clarence “Korky” Korker got involved in the push to preserve the school, making a presentation to the Fellsmere City Council and turning them into believers as well.
Korker told the audience that he told the council he couldn’t see a building “this young” – then-82 years old – be torn down when a one-room schoolhouse in Connecticut had been 250 years in service and still standing.
“Today we celebrate 100 years,” Korker told the audience, getting slightly choked up. “It happened folks. Thank you.”
The schoolhouse, built in 1915 at a cost of approximately $40,000 (in that year’s money), cost the city about $3 million to restore.
“I didn’t think Korky and I would live long enough” to see this done, Tyson said.