In 1886 the Porter County Westchester Township School system erected, atop a high sand dune, the two room Furnessville schoolhouse. The building was designed in the Romanesque Revival style and made from local bricks. Its architecturally imposing bell tower was placed over the front entry door. A prominent spire topped the belfry which was made of four open louvered panels squared off to house the large calling bell – now long gone. The building’s corners were tastefully designed with pseudo buttresses. Then the arched windows were dramatically designed in height to accommodate the nearly twelve foot ceilings. The overall look of exuberant proportion and elegant grace was complete and the charm of the area was extended by the enchanting Furnessville cemetery across the street.
Before the turn of the century the Funesses and Morgans had acquired much land making a living from farming blueberries and cranberries and selling lumber (to rebuild after the great Chicago fire of 1871). Furnessville became a stop on the Michigan Central Railroad connecting Chicago and Detroit.
The construction of U.S. highway 20 in ’31′& ’32′ also made the area more accessible. The Furnessville gas station was in operation complete with three pumps with glass gasoline bowls. The nearby Lewry General Store thrived and included a post office.
In the 20′s the school was abandoned. In the mid 40′s T.W. and Babs Pape impulsively purchased the building out from under a competitive bidder who intended to remove the bell tower and fashion it as a chicken coup!
It was just past World War II and the Papes spent a lot of time making the structure livable. Eventually, but still in the 40′s, they began to sell fine art, primarily on consignment. Furnessville already (since the late 20′s) had been evolving as an art community. Early artists include Charles Biesel, his son Fred Biesel and daughter-in-law Frances Strain. Also V.M.S. and Hazel Hannell pioneered on a subsistence level while creating their sculpture, fine art and pottery. Later Ethel Crouch Brown, Knuth Larson, and the Victor Babgys came along. Also, in ’46′ or ’47′ Gil Beck, an industrial designer and his wife Peggy, a potter, moved to Furnessville. Commercial photographer Jun Fujita bought six acres next to the Hannells. Chicago Goodman Theatre’s director Gniesen was already there since the late 30′s. So, the Furnessville mystique was crescendoing.
In the ’50′s the Papes widened the art range to include consignment of different types of art. Then the gift shop concept began to take hold as Babs creativity expanded the lines and Bill (T.W.) Pape left his position at Chicago Harris Bank & Trust to devote full time at the shop. In the 60′s two additions were carefully added so as not to compromise the integrity of the original schoolhouse architecture.
The shop flourished into an almost mini Marshall Fields alternative under the Pape ownership. In 1980 Bill and Babs retired and turned management over to their son Tom Pape and his wife Maura who ran the shop until 1986. At that time Mary Louise Reey and her husband purchased the shop and operated it until 1995.
July 7, 1997 witnessed James D. Ruge and Roy J. Krizek purchasing the SCHOOLHOUSE SHOP from George Tichac, an investor uncle of Mary Louise Reey. A week of extensive tree trimming, new wiring, tuck pointing of bricks, new furnaces and air conditioners, replaced roofs (down to removing the original cedar shingles), critter extermination: all happening at a furious pace to accommodate the holiday opening November 13, 1997.
The new name officially became SCHOOLHOUSE SHOP and ANTIQUES INC. The old office was turned into the Tree House Toy Room and the kitchen shop is now touted as THE MAGIC PANTRY. The long dormant lower level was tiled and brightened and filled with antiques and more.
In the spring of 2009, Schoolhouse Shop once again redefined itself with the opening of Dune Clothiers, which features affordable apparel and accessories for women and men.
As Ruge and Krizek confess: “The Schoolhouse Shop chose us. Not the other way around! Something had to be done to preserve the mystique and wonderful memories of the ‘Shopping Tradition in the Indiana Dunes’.”