Everywhere you look in Pocahontas County, there are remnants of the past – reminders of those who settled here and founded all the small towns that make up this large county.
For the small town of Frost, one of those remnants is the schoolhouse on Rt. 92. In use by 1892, with a new addition in 1912, the school closed in 1963. Once it closed, the school was used as a hay barn and nature slowly took over the building.
Large trees grew between building and the road, hiding most of it from view and, in addition to that, poison ivy took up residence in abundance.
It seemed as though the building would slowly crumble into itself and we would lose one more landmark of a bygone era. That is until the Benson family came along.
William and Sarah Benson, and their son, Jolly, all from Key West, Florida, fell in love with the old school building, so they bought it – and the farmhouse beside it – with plans to restore both.
William and Jolly are electrical contractors and have done several restoration projects in Key West, but the family had their sights set on something more when they came across Frost.
“My uncle has a cabin over in Mingo, and I’ve been coming here for about twenty years,” Jolly said. “I was always looking for something – and then this popped up.
“We were looking at a house in Marlinton to buy as a project,” Sarah said.
Oddly enough, Jolly found the school online around the same time his parents found it in person.
“There were two days that I was looking at this, and I didn’t want to tell [them] about it because it was a bigger project than we were initially looking for,” Jolly said. “They were in the area and they said, ‘we found this other thing,’ and I said, ‘Funny on that, let’s go for it,’ and here we are.”
Last fall the family closed on the property and work began immediately. Ron’s Tree Service took care of the large trees in front of the school and the Bensons hacked away at the poison ivy.
“Eight dumpsters full of poison ivy,” Jolly said, to be exact.
With the help of friends and Red Point Construction, owned and operated by Caleb Pugh, work began on the schoolhouse.
The original one room school had a larger addition which many of the locals who attended the school call the gymnasium. In the original section, the outer wall is lined with windows. Three of the windows were originally on the opposite wall until the second room was added to the building.
The room still has its coal stove and tin ceiling, although they have both seen better days. Both will be restored, with the ceiling getting patched with white metal.
“We’re going to tack this back up, obviously, where it’s falling down,” Jolly said. “Stabilize it from behind and in the curves – it’s just going to be white metal – plain white metal and I’ll sort of tack it back in with epoxy and then gloss it with clear coat.
“The idea is to not paint it, to just let it be itself,” he added.
The second room – or the gymnasium – has two walls of windows providing natural light for the large empty space. The window frames and doors are all being stripped and repainted before returning to their rightful places.
Along with restoring the schoolhouse, the family is making a few adjustments to modernize the building, including a full bathroom.
For the exterior, the Bensons are taking cues from Pugh, who has worked on restoration projects in the county in the past. He is currently working on the Frost school’s bell tower, replacing shakes and two of the four finials stationed at the corners of the tower.
The Bensons are enjoying the restoration process, although they do admit it is a bigger project than they originally anticipated. Regardless, they are excited to see the building come back to life and are open to the possibilities of its use in the future.
“Right now, the plan is just get it fixed up,” Jolly said. “People in the community are always saying, ‘you should do this or that,’ so we’re open to suggestions for right now. We’re going to fix this up and then the farmhouse. Right now it’s just a project to get it somewhat habitable. We’re not really worried about what we’re going to do with it in five to ten years.”
“Eventually, the plan is to live in the farmhouse,” Sarah added. “And then have this building for whatever purpose Jolly wants to do with it.”
The Bensons have enjoyed hearing not only suggestions from the community but stories from the past. Several Frost residents have shared childhood stories from when they attended the school and played basketball in the “gymnasium.”
They are interested in hearing more about the school and its history, and invite the community to share their stories with them. The Bensons may be contacted at 304-799-2616 or by email at sarah.benson@ mac.com