A Tale of Two Schoolhouses

In 1903, the Town of Fayston constructed the iconic schoolhouse along the Mill Brook near the junction of Number Nine Hill Road and Town Highway #1, now Mill Brook Road (Vermont Route 17). The road got its name from Schoolhouse #9, which served the Fayston School District 9. Sixty years of bell ringing and the chatter of the children of Fayston ensued along the brook until the new schoolhouse on German Flats Road that currently serves the students of Fayston opened in 1963. Today, at this location, the Fayston Elementary School (FES) is alive and well with a renewed spirit and thriving student enrollment at capacity. The school is under the direction of Justina Boyden, who has spent virtually her entire life there, first as a student and then thirty-plus years as an educator before becoming the Principal. She leads an incredible team of classroom teachers, para educators, and support staff, including me as a substitute.

This is sort of a sequel to a previous post in 2019, A Day at the Fayston School, which reflects on my experience as a guest teacher, extolling the values of our small schools. We all have the responsibility as citizens to support our public education system. For the naysayers, please spend one day in your local school and observe the value and importance they bring to the community.  Please lay to rest the notion of closing the Fayston School. The student population reached a low point of seventy-five in 2018. The school’s capacity is expected to increase to 124 next August. No matter how gifted or challenged, every student gets what they need at this amazing learning institution. A robust Parent Teacher Organization has raised 100% of the funding for much-needed playground upgrades and provides financial support for an excellent winter sports program and other supplemental programs. FES is essential to our growing family community in Fayston.

Back in 1963, Robert Burley, in his mid-thirties, was hanging around the water cooler at the offices of architect Eero Saarinen in St Louis, MO. A senior designer on the Gateway Arch, Bob was discussing his future with colleagues upon completing the project. One colleague was heading to the Los Angeles office, another was heading to the London office, and a third was heading to New York. Bob said, “I’m purchasing a little two-room schoolhouse in Vermont to start my own architecture practice.” So began the second half of the 120-year history of the Number Nine Schoolhouse when Patricia and Robert Burley purchased the gem along the brook from the Town of Fayston and started the Burley Partnership. This was a story recently told to me by Bob while we discussed the plan for the future of the building. He also said, “Kevin, this has been the best place in the world to work.” A very powerful statement from someone who has designed some of the finest homes and buildings in Vermont for the past 60 years. 

Now retired, Bob and his daughter Jill Burley have resolved to see the schoolhouse live on for a higher and greater purpose, defined in this mission statement: The Number Nine Schoolhouse is a place where community members can ServeLearn, Honor, Celebrate, and Thrive. To that effort, the Friends of the Number Nine Schoolhouse, Inc. (FNNS), a Vermont non-profit, has been formed to purchase and manage the property and building. FNNS is partnering with the Preservation Trust of Vermont (PTV) as a fiscal sponsor, which also provided matching funds for a conditions assessment by a qualified historic preservation specialist. There is work to be done.

FNNS is expanding representation on the board and seeking local support of services and funding to meet the goals of purchasing and preserving the building. With the help of local stakeholders, the Burley family seeks to transition the building, once the seat of education in our humble town that was temporarily altered to accommodate the practice, back to community-based, sustainable activities. 

A community-focused ethos is what is behind the Number Nine Schoolhouse preservation project. The historic two-room schoolhouse will be sustainable by combining long-term and short-term rental revenue from appropriate commercial and community-based uses supporting the mission. The lower floor of the building provides divided office space for one or more non-profit organizations. The main floor classroom has space for various small-scale community-based activities, including public meetings, instructional courses, music lessons, art classes, and other special programs consistent with the mission. The historical context of the building is appropriate for exhibits, displays, and public events that honor our past and celebrate the present. With its unique setting along the Mill Brook in the Mad River Valley and at the gateway to the Green Mountains, the building offers a place as a hub for a wide range of wellness activities that connect to the outdoors. It is envisioned that a mix of many of these ideas will be organized and managed for the long-term sustainability of the building through careful consideration of community desires and needs, governed by a board of directors of local stakeholders.

Preserving the iconic 1903 schoolhouse is a fitting tribute to Fayston as a seat of education in the Mad River Valley. Our humble hills are home to the Green Mountain Valley School, Vermont Adaptive Sports, and the Sugarbush and Mad River Glen Ski Schools. Kids in school groups from all over Central Vermont learn to ski at Mount Ellen and Mad River Glen. The public Fayston Elementary School is once again bursting at the seams. Please support our local public schools by voting for upcoming budgets and proposed fundraising initiatives for much-needed maintenance and upgrades for our kids’ education.


Everyone passes the Number Nine Schoolhouse on the way to school and the mountains. Linking the old and the new can be the first step in building spirit for the preservation project. This spring, a field trip of 6th graders is being planned to visit the Number Nine Schoolhouse. What a great thing it will be to hear the sound of children’s laughter in the schoolyard and the ringing of the bell that has been so dormant these many decades.

Please consider supporting the Number Nine Schoolhouse with your time, talent, and financial support for the greater good of the community. Tax-deductible contributions to Friends of the Number Nine Schoolhouse, Inc. can be made at https://ptvermont.org/numbernine or by sending a check to Preservation Trust of Vermont, 104 Church Street, Suite 21, Burlington, VT 05401, labeled #9 Schoolhouse.

Thank you!

Kevin Russell, Director and Project Manager
Friends of the Number Nine Schoolhouse, Inc.

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