NEMAH - Driving along a lonely stretch of Hwy 101, it's easy to miss the old Nemah Community Building, or even take it for a shack for that matter. Granted, it's seen better days - but that's beginning to change.
Situated just south of the upper Nemah River overpass, where many a fisherman try their luck during the fall salmon runs, the community building sits on a little hill above the highway. The last time it was used regularly was some 25 years ago when it was the site of pinochle gatherings. Built in 1917 as a one room schoolhouse, the building has also taken turns as a church and community meeting hall. It also served as the polling site for Nemah voters, all 80 or so.
Only about a third of them showed up," said Betty Kammer, who manned the site for years. "That's just a long, boring sit."
Kammer has lived in the Nemah area for 26 years, following her parents who came in 1962, and she has been connected with the building ever since. It all began she said when she was "asked" to join the Nemah Women's League, which later became the Nemah Community League (NCL). The NCL is responsible for an ongoing project to refurbish the historical site.
The building itself is split in two, a wall separating a kitchen and dining area from what was the old church and schoolhouse portion. The kitchen is still used somewhat regularly to host fund-raising meals and whatnot. The other side stands as a relic of sorts, harkening back to an older time, with many details still intact. The pews, painted a flat gray, sit in the dusty old room. A bookcase still holds old Episcopal prayer and sacrament books, next to a sun-faded framed copy of the Last Supper painting.
The exterior of the building looks a little worse for wear than it probably should now, due to the NCL chipping off a good portion of the paint. It was a failed endeavor however, as they found the original cedar siding would not look very good re-painted.
This led to the hosting of a work party, which the public is invited to, this Saturday, June 19, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The hope is to pull off all the old siding and put up new, and maybe even get some painting in, if time and weather permits.
"We were going to paint last summer," said NCL President Andrea Shotwell. "We went to scrape all this and you can't scrape the siding. It just wasn't worth it to paint over it."
Once they get the new siding up, they plan on returning to the original color scheme of white with green trim. Shotwell mentioned that upon removing the old church sign on the front of the building, they found the original scrawl marking the school, dating back to its construction.
"We're trying to get all this (exterior work) done before the chili feed in November," said Shotwell.
Their biggest fund-raiser of the year is the annual chili feed, which they host the first week of elk hunting season - the first Saturday of November. It's all-you-can-eat for just seven bucks, and draws quite a crowd.
"We serve 70 to 90 people," said Kammer
"We've gone from just chili to spaghetti and oysters, anything you can think of," said Shotwell.
They also hold a big garage sale over the Fourth of July weekend at the community building - but don't think that you'll be able to get your hands on any of the historical items from inside.
"The community donates things to be sold," said Shotwell. "Everything in the building, we're not going to sell any of that."
"People want to buy those pews, but there is strong objection to that by people in the community," said Kammer.
The NCL only makes about $800 per year, so putting a timeline on when the project will be finished is almost impossible. The front porch of the building is the most recently completed portion of the overall refurbishing project, done last fall. They also did some work on the south wall, which was sagging, removing the glass from the windows and boarding them up.
"Is there a timeline for something like that? I don't know. It all depends on the donations, how much money we raise every year," said Shotwell. "I would like to see the outside done by the end of this year, and then we can start working on the inside. But three or four years if we can do it."
Though they may be small, the NCL seem a determined group.
"One time we only had like five of us," said Shotwell of the attendance of one work party. "At the last two meetings we had a really good turnout - we had around a dozen."
She said they have a core-group of about seven people who are very committed. Part of the hope behind the project is the fact that the population in that area seems to be getting younger.
"When I moved here I think there was maybe one or two kids around, and now it's all mostly families," said Shotwell.
After Saturday, next on the list will be the interior work, including some new paint on the walls and varnish for the hardwood floors. The finished product will be something like a museum of sorts, as far as the old church and school room are concerned. The building overall will be made available for community use.
"[We want to] get it cleaned up and get everything in there fixed up so people can come in and look at it," said Shotwell. "We're going to put the older pictures up, trying to get a little history of the Nemah in there."
To help accomplish this, the Nemah Community League is asking for people to share any appropriate artifacts, including pictures, memories, etc., they may have. They also accept any donations people may want to give. For more information about the project or the work party Saturday, call Shotwell at (360) 875-6069.