Although Gete Thomson was born in Portsmouth, N.H., her parents, Hollis and Regina Bonsey, were from Surry. They returned home in 1946 to care for Gete’s grandfather, Hollis Bonsey Sr.
Gete was 3 years old at the time. “We stayed here until 1951, and then we moved back to Portsmouth,” where she graduated from high school, she recalled.
An education major at Plymouth State University, Gete served three terms in the New Hampshire Legislature. After visiting Surry “every summer for years,” she “moved back here permanently in 2003.”
Gete and her husband, Gary Mosley, live on Newbury Neck. Whenever they drive into Surry Village, they pass the former school that the town constructed in 1872. Gete attended the school for a year when her family lived in Surry decades ago.
Located at the intersection of modern Route 172 and the Toddy Pond Road, the Surry Village School housed students until closing in 1952. After pouring a concrete floor and setting two large doors in the school’s front wall, Surry volunteer firefighters used the school as a fire station for the next 30 years.
When the Surry Volunteer Fire Department moved to the new town office/fire station complex on the North Bend Road, the SVFD’s women’s auxiliary took over the old school. “It was an unofficial center of the community for over 35 years,” with dances, receptions, and other events taking place there,” Gete said.
The school gradually fell into disrepair, and town officials considered demolishing the building a few years.
Meanwhile, Gete “did substitute teaching in Ellsworth, Surry, and Trenton for a few years.” She and Gary joined the Surry Historical Society, which leases the Old Town Hall at 1217 Route 172.
Seeking to save the old school, volunteers formed the Old Surry Village Schoolhouse Preservation Group and received resounding permission from Surry voters at a special April 2016 town meeting to rehabilitate the building. Surry selectmen formed the Old Surry Schoolhouse Committee to oversee the project.
The preservation group seeks to raise $200,000 to rehabilitate the old school and buy the adjacent house and land for conversion to a playground and walking trails along Flood Stream. “We’ve raised $110,000 so far,” Gete said.
Demolition work on interior rooms installed by the SVFD began in May 2016. Volunteers removed the two bay doors and restored the school’s exterior to its 1870s appearance. Working relentlessly since then, volunteers and contractors have remodeled both floors, installed a new subfloor over the Fire Department-built concrete floor, built new stairs replicating those that connected both rooms for decades, insulated and wired and plumbed the school, and installed a kitchen and a bathroom on the first floor, which is handicapped-accessible.
“Virtually untouched from when the Fire Department had the building,” the second floor had original beadboard wall paneling that has been matched with similar paneling on the first floor, Gete said. An original blackboard — some older Surry residents remember when teachers used it — has been preserved, as have original furnishings that no one expected to turn up.
“We have 17 desks in mint condition that came out of the school when it closed in 1952. They were found in an old barn on a local property that sold in spring 2018,” Gete said.
With renovations nearing completion, the Old Surry Village School has been “outfitted for the 21st century, wired for sound and for Wi-Fi, with a big-screen TV,” she said.
“We’re calling the school ‘a historic public meeting place’” available for private and public activities, Gete said. “We will encourage businesses in Surry and the surrounding towns to use it.”