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21Country: Making a 140-year-old schoolhouse into a home

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - When Eric Vanstrom came across what was once known as District School No. 4 in Aboite Township, it was in desperate need of repair.

"When we got the schoolhouse you could see daylight through the roof. Most of the plaster had fallen down. The bell tower had caved in quite a bit," Vanstrom explained.

Over the course of several years, Vanstrom and his wife transformed the schoolhouse into a modern home, complete with amenities one would expect in the 21st century.

The now-three thousand square foot home has materials repurposed from the original schoolhouse, such as the cherry wood floor. The Vanstroms also removed the plaster covering the walls and exposed the original brick.

The main living area contains chalkboards found in the schoolhouse, with some original writing that could be over 80 years old.

Where they couldn't re-purpose materials originally found in the schoolhouse, Vanstrom gathered materials from reclaimed barns and other old buildings in northeast Indiana and throughout the Midwest.

One meaningful feature is the laundry room door, which came from an old schoolhouse in Fort Dodge, Iowa--the city where the Vanstroms originally met.

The original schoolhouse was roughly 1,000 square feet, but the Vanstroms added on an additional 2,000 square feet to make room for features like a bigger kitchen, bedrooms, laundry room, and basement.

But why restore such a relic of the past?

"It was a fantastic opportunity. It was one in a million. You can't find any more schools like this anywhere. They're being torn down in favor of new commercial projects that don't have the heart and history that these do," Vanstrom says.

In fact, Vanstrom says if he can find another historic structure around Fort Wayne, he'd love to undertake another project.

But what happens to the schoolhouse now? It's currently on the market. Vanstrom says if he can't sell it, he's happy to continue making memories there, but he feels the schoolhouse has some lessons to teach to another caring and deserving family.

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Gabe Prough

Gabe Prough is the Weekend Evening Meteorologist for ABC21. A northeast Indiana native, he joined the StormTrack weather team in December 2019.

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