A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949
Home in History

Home in History

Feb 18, 2013 - By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

The straight-grained, rough-cut, Douglas fir planks and posts are testament to the construction ability of the men who built Delfelder Hall 93 years ago. While the purpose of their creation has changed over time, the essence of the project has survived.

The old building was constructed for children, and though its tenure as a public school lasted barely a decade, its use as a community center for both youth and adult activities lasted much longer.

Now in its third renovation, the old building northeast of Riverton will be a haven for at least two children again. Scott McFarland and his wife, Alyssa, purchased the building and are converting it into a home for themselves and their two sons, Travis and Wyatt.

Once a school

McFarland's father, Scott McFarland Sr., purchased the building and land from the Delfelder Hall Association five years ago.

Delfelder Hall, as it became known for much of its existence, was built in 1920 as Delfelder School. It was a big improvement over the undersized Freeman School in an area that was much farther from the Riverton city limits than it is today.

It was built partly in tribute to Jacob A. Delfelder, remembered as a giant of early Riverton. He was elected mayor seven times (the term of office was one year in those days), and he ran the Riverton Valley's largest herd of sheep in addition to his interests in banking, transportation, politics and social life.

Delfelder died in 1920. The school didn't open officially until January 1921, but students were surprised on the Monday after Thanksgiving break in 1920 when they found their desks and books moved into the new school, which was complete with two classrooms for the 40 children in eight grades.

According to coverage in the Fremont County history magazine Wind River Mountaineer a generation ago, a Mr. and Mrs. Rogers were hired as teachers at the school, and their eighth-grade daughter was a student.

But the couple disappeared mysteriously in the middle of the night after the news of an impending arrest of Mr. Rogers by Fremont County Sheriff's deputies spread through the community.

The teachers were last seen boarding a train for parts unknown at the Bonneville Station north of Shoshoni.

Old-style construction

No such intrigue surrounds the present owners of the structure as they contend with building styles more reminiscent of the 19th than the 21st century. The building was without insulation, and the walls were covered with old-style lath and plaster. Thousands of small nails held the wall covering in place and remained after the plaster was removed.

Douglas fir is the strongest of all coniferous soft woods and hardens over time, especially at the bottom of vertical studs as gravity draws the remaining sap down the board. Nail pulling took a lot of time for McFarland, as did the redesign.

The four-room building began with two large classrooms, two smaller rooms that served as both closets and furnace rooms, and an attached coal room. The 1.6-acre property originally had no well and only a privy on the far side.

After the school closed in 1929, it was converted into a community hall. The two big classrooms were combined into a single large meeting room. The Delfelder Hall Association was incorporated in 1940. Through the years it hosted hundreds of Grange meetings, 4-H, FFA and Boy Scout events, private parties, and dozens of elections as an official Fremont County polling place.

Modern update

McFarland began the process of converting the hall back to a multi-roomed structure in the summer of 2012. In the process he discovered some interesting characteristics.

The structure was heated originally by coal-fired steam heat, a cutting-edge innovation in its day for a public school, but the system never generated enough heat, so students and teachers wore gloves and heavy coats inside for much of the winter.Stand-alone wood burning stoves were finally brought in, and a permanent solution, the addition of two oil burning stoves, was put in place in 1952 at a cost of $894.

Barrels for duct work

That price was high for a rural community building in the early 1950s, and McFarland discovered a unique cost-cutting measure that accompanied the oil stoves. In looking in the crawl space, McFarland discovered a long line of 55-gallon oil drums, welded together, running the full length of the structure. Thy formed a crude but functional main heat duct, and traditional duct work was cut into the drums and screwed in place to bring heat to floor registers throughout the building.

"They cut away parts of the floor joists to get the drums to fit," McFarland said. "It was welded pretty well. I tied a chain to one end of the drums and pulled them out in one piece with a tractor."

Delfelder has solid oak floors, but the multiple holes cut in the floor for heat ducting and the additional removal of walls over time created too much work in patching the damage. The McFarlands will cover it with newer flooring material.

Teachers lived a spartan existence at the school. A room was carved out of one of the classrooms for living quarters. The quarters were without electricity and indoor plumbing and included only a kerosene lamp for illumination.

Bees, too

One companion teachers complained about from the first summer was an abundance of honey bees nesting in the southern exterior wall. With fields of alfalfa in the surrounding area, the blossoms were a siren song to honey bees and the numerous holes in the wooden lap siding made it easy for the insects to penetrate.

Bees were a persistent problem for decades. McFarland discovered ample evidence of bee activity in the southern walls when he removed the exterior siding, exposing wo huge, active honeycombs stretched nearly 11 feet top to bottom.

The ceilings were 11 feet as well, and McFarland decided to lower them to eight feet in the bedrooms and nine feet in the kitchen and family room.

The interior doors all had old-style ventilation transoms above each door, which allowed warm air to circulate with the doors closed. While their home will have central heating and air conditioning units, McFarland decided to leave the transom windows in place and even added another one above a newly created entrance in honor of the old design.

The McFarlands have added a new septic system and will drill a new well on the property. Other improvements will be a 650 square-foot addition to the east of the building for additional bedrooms.

McFarland installed newer, energy-efficient windows but had to frame new openings for each of them. The original wood is rough-cut 2x4 material, half an inch wider and thicker than modern 2x4s.

Many of the windows were broken in the last 15 years as the building sat dormant. A steel entry door had been installed to prevent further vandalism.

A 1,000 square-foot garage is nearing completion on the south end of the building. McFarland said matching the room lines of the garage and the existing structure will be a challenge.

If all goes well, the McFarland family hopes to move into their new home in May or June of this year, marking a new era for a Fremont County landmark that made the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

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