After having listened to her friend Andrew Cushing ’12 go on and on about his beloved hometown of Grafton, N.H., over the last three years, Melanie Gaynes ’13 said she was happy to finally get a chance to visit the community of 1,300 residents.
The scenery was lovely; the houses were spread far apart; the sunset was stunning; the local librarian treated Cushing as a local celebrity, Gaynes said. “It’s a different way of life,” she described, comparing it to her home city of Atlanta, Ga. “I can’t imagine growing up in such a small town.”
Last Friday afternoon, Gaynes, Cushing and three other Bowdoin students traveled to Grafton, nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains. They were there to help Cushing with one of his pet projects: restoring a 157-year-old one-room schoolhouse.
Cushing organized the getaway as a weekend service trip. These short trips, organized through the McKeen Center for the Common Good, take place throughout the year, giving students the opportunity to travel to a different community to help out in some way. Cushing and his father, an auto-body mechanic, have done a lot of work together restoring old structures in Grafton, and Cushing’s love for antiquated architecture is pulling him toward a career in this field. He says in a couple of years he’d like to attend graduate school in historic preservation.
Besides Gaynes and Cushing, Cailey Oehler ’15, Marta Misiulaityte ’14 and Hannah Sturtevant ’15 went on the trip, representing every class year. “It was nice to bring students together who had a common interest,” Cushing said.
The five Bowdoin students were joined in Grafton by five Dartmouth College students. Together, beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday and wrapping up at 5 p.m., they glazed the schoolhouse windows, landscaped the yard, primed the school exterior and started painting the building with Romantic Attachment – a bright pinkish color selected by the local historical society. “The paint looked like old lady lipstick,” Cushing remarked. “We weren’t romantically attached to it.”
The 10 students stayed overnight in Grafton’s town hall, sleeping on cots loaned by the fire department. Volunteers from the local historical society brought the students breakfast and lunch, Gaynes said.
The students managed to get so much done on the school that all that’s left to do is finish up the painting, glaze a window or two and fix up the foundation, Cushing said. In the future, Grafton town members hope to use the space for the local Head Start, which currently doesn’t have a permanent home.
Cushing says he’ll likely go back this summer to work on the schoolhouse during his days off from his internship at Maine Preservation in Yarmouth. Gaynes, who will be interning at the Maine Center for Disease Control and working for the McKeen Center this summer, says she’s hoping to entice another group of students to return to Grafton for a refreshing break.
“Before we went [on the trip last weekend], I was thinking how much I had to do, but once I got there, it was nice to be doing something different,” Gaynes said. “And it was very grounding to do physical work.”