JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Local historians learned what it was like to be a child in Johns Creek in the mid-20th century on a tour of one of the area’s oldest surviving schoolhouses.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, five school houses were built to serve the newly formed north Fulton area. Only two of the schools remain, both in Johns Creek.
Newtown School was renovated to serve as Park Place senior center in Newtown Park and Warsaw School is now an office building near the intersection of State Bridge and Medlock Bridge roads.
The Johns Creek Historical Society took a tour of the Warsaw School Dec. 4 led by its current owner and former student, Mark Burkhalter.
“The best memories of my life are here,” the former state representative said. “And the most inspiring people — we all have two or three of them who are special to us — are teachers.”
Warsaw School closed in 1980, and the building was destined to be torn down and replaced with a storage facility if not for Burkhalter’s intervention. He bought the property in 1991 and spent months restoring the old school house.
The renovation uncovered the original hardwood floors, updated the heating and electricity, bringing the building in line with today’s safety codes, all the while maintaining as much of the original building as possible.
“It would have been infinitely better, financially, for me to bulldoze this building and start over,” Burkhalter said.
But he said he is committed to maintaining the integrity of the building because he doesn’t “want to mess with history.”
When Burkhalter attended school in the in the ’60s and ’70s, the school was still set up like it was in 1932 except for the “cafetorium” that was added in 1953. There were four classrooms that held first through seventh grade.
Even with two or three grades in each classroom, the student-to-teacher ratio was small. Burkhalter said his graduating class had nine students.
“It was a special time,” he said. “I probably learned more here than I did in high school and two university degrees because I had that special attention.”
Burkhalter also worked to save a 290-year-old red oak tree on the property.
“I spent more on that tree than the building,” he joked.
He said he spent around $50,000 ensuring the tree and its root system were healthy, a decision he said was purely sentimental. He and his fellow classmates used the tree as a backstop when they played softball at recess.
“It may be the oldest tree in Johns Creek,” Historical Society President Joan Compton said.
For the Historical Society, which scheduled the tour in lieu of a December meeting, the Old Warsaw School was the embodiment of the value of preserving history.
“A lot of communities as they grow and change, the history is lost,” Burkhalter said. “So you need a team, not just one or two people, but a team to preserve that history because once it’s gone, it’s gone. And that’s a real shame.”