The Douglas Flat Community Center, or Douglas Flat Schoolhouse as many know it, has graced its current address at 1330 Main Street in Douglas Flat for 165 years. The one-room schoolhouse and community center is listed in the federal register of historic places and currently operates as a non-profit historical museum and community center.

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Upcoming renovations will give the schoolhouse a more historically accurate look, and allow for upgrades to heating and cooling systems.

The Douglas Flat Community Center (DFCC) was created in 1945 in order to preserve the historic building, which had fallen into disrepair and was likely to be demolished. Now, repairs are again necessary and DFCC president John Kramer is grateful for a recent grant awarded to the DFCC by the Calaveras Community Foundation to cover some of the necessary structural and aesthetic repairs. The $10,000 grant will cover the cost of “trenching an underground electrical service to the back of the building,” according to a recent press release by DFCC.

The underground electrical wires will allow for the removal of aerial electrical components that currently obstruct the historical view of the front of the building, along with necessary electrical upgrades that will allow for the installation of efficient heating and cooling systems.

The board recently hired Mineweaser & Associates, Preservation Architects, to create a Historical Structure Report (HSR) “to be used as a roadmap for future care, restoration, and development of the Douglas Flat Schoolhouse.”

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Proposed renovations include removing the visible power lines from the front of the building.

The report, which is 92 pages long, contains the history of the area and location of the schoolhouse dating back to the early 1800s. The building that became the Douglas Flat Schoolhouse was initially built as a church and community center, according to the report, possibly as early as 1852. It was relocated and repurposed as a schoolhouse and community meetinghouse in 1856.

The report reads, “Although 1974 was the last class of schoolchildren, today it is still operated by the Board of the Douglas Flat Community Center as a facility for use by community groups—thus the use  of the building has not really changed in some 160+ years.”

According to the report, the schoolhouse has had various uses, periods of high and low activity, and many additions and renovations over its nearly 200 years. 

Previous renovations overseen by the board include a 10 addition which included an on-demand water heater, a fully-functioning restroom, and a kitchenette with a fridge, sink, and microwave for community use. Ramp access was added to the side of the building in 2005 to accommodate wheelchairs and meet the requirements of the CHBC and the Federal ADA.

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A leaning outhouse that has been on the property since around 1900 will receive a new roof and sturdier walls.

The current preservation/renovation project includes plans for an “Outhouse Rescue Project,” which would preserve and repair an outhouse that has been on the property since the turn of the last century. While no longer usable, the outhouse was originally the only restroom facility for the schoolhouse and offers a glimpse into life as it was when the community center was an actual schoolhouse. The outhouse is currently in disrepair, with a serious lean, being held in place by a 2x4 brace.

An architect worked up plans for the renovations, which would make the outhouse an interesting historical exhibit, though not usable as a restroom due to it being filled in many years ago. Plans include new paint, raked and leveled gravel, squared walls reinforced with heavy bolts, a rehung door, reconditioning the old oak wood seat, and installing a new cedar shake roof.

The historical structure report also recommended removing the non-original front porch of the building, as it obscures details of the Greek Revival style facade, replacing the current shutters with original Bermuda style shutters, restoring the belfry “to its full glory,” and repairing or replacing other “deteriorated features.”

The schoolhouse could use a fresh coat of paint, too. However, with more pressing structural renovations, including repairing and restoring the near-original wood floors (which were installed in 1870 to replace earlier floorboards that had deteriorated quickly), and structural foundation work recommended by the historical structure report, the painting will have to wait. 

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One suggested update by the Historical Structure Report included replacing the shutters with Bermuda shutters.

The proposed renovations in all could range between 182,000 to 335,000, with the crucial foundation and floor repairs taking up about 35,000 of the budget. This is of top priority, according to a document prepared by the Douglas Flat Community Center board, as the HSR advised that “the building is sinking into the ground, and the rest of the building frame is being severely stressed.”

While all events and meetings were postponed during the height of the pandemic, the organization had significant revenue losses, and renovations had to be put on hold.

Now, thanks to the generous grant by the Calaveras Community Foundation, electrical repair plans are underway, and other repairs are on the horizon, providing the revenue is there.

A statement from the HSR explains that “at times the building had siding falling off, broken windows, and extensively weathered paint. Even today, this is typical of many other small public buildings in rural areas across the country. The main cause of this is lack of money. … That’s why the efforts of the current Community Center Board are so critical to the long-term survival of this building, and it is one of the main reasons for creating this HSR.”

Kramer hopes with in-person meetings and events on the rise, the schoolhouse will again become a community hub as well as a popular historical tourist attraction for the area.

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Inside the “miner’s cabin”, historical props and décor give visitors a glimpse into what life may have looked like for residents of the area in the early days of Calaveras County.

“Our vision is for having a nice solid building...We want to be a community center for people to use,” says Kramer.

Kramer even envisions using the center as a town dance hall again, once the buckling wood floor has been repaired. 

The property also features land that can be utilized for events or photoshoots, and a "miner's cabin" exhibit visitors can enter to get the feel of what life was like in Calaveras County during the gold rush era.

Currently, a few groups have a regular rental agreement for the space, such as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church, a local knitting club called the Knit Wits, and, until recently, a weekly art group.

Kramer credits the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for keeping the community center going through Covid, as they continued to pay rent despite the cancellation of in-person gatherings. “It’s kept us solvent. Otherwise, we would have had to shut down,” suggesting they might have had to cut utilities to the building.

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Kathy Dunphy teaches a painting workshop inside the community center a couple of times a year.

Additional events, like last Thursday's plein-air painting class taught by Kathy Dunphy, of Murphys, keep the Community Center open. Kramer hopes more groups will utilize the center’s rental space.

Rental rates vary from $50-$125 a day, depending on the size of the group and intended purpose. A discounted rate is also available for recurring events.

Donations can be made on the website, douglasflatschoolhouse.com, or by mail to Douglas Flat Community Center at P.O. Box 73, Douglas Flat, CA 95229.

Inquiries for events, tours, or rentals can be made by emailing johnkramer@gmail.com

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Marie-Elena studied creative writing, art, and photography at University of Nebraska at Omaha, graduating with a BA in Studio Art -Visual Media. She moved to California from Nebraska in 2019 and is happy to call Calaveras County her home.

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