In the early 19th and 20th centuries, most American students attended a one-room schoolhouse where a single teacher typically taught everyone in first through eighth grade. These nostalgic buildings, standing as monuments of a bygone era, are dwindling with each passing year, and NPR reports that fewer than 400 still exist in America today (compared to 190,000 in 1919). But in rural Rockford, the legacy of an original one-room schoolhouse continues to flourish — now enhanced by a bountiful spread of antiques, rustic gifts, and old-timey home comforts that give a nod back to simpler days.
"People always come into my shop and go, ‘Dandelions — I remember blowing on them as a kid and making wishes.' That's exactly why I chose the name Dandelion School House," says owner and Midwest Electric member Emily Brower. "My mother and I used to do the same thing. She'd always say, ‘You never know where the seeds may land and grow.'"
After downsizing from a 5,000-square-foot home in Columbus, Emily Brower and Larry Riley decided they wanted a "little country home," which they found in Rockford. It wasn't perfect, but after immense renovations and a lot of TLC, the couple made it their own. The schoolhouse, which sits cozily concealed behind their home, was initially purchased by Virgil and Helen Schaffer in the 1940s, who turned it into a grain bin. After Brower and Riley acquired it, Brower knew she had big plans for its future life. Two years ago, Brower had a major heart attack, endured triple bypass surgery, and wanted to hit the reset button on her life.
After working numerous niche jobs, including fashion illustration for Macy's, she decided she wanted to work for herself. Opening a shop that incorporated all her talents in one seemed the natural option.
Dandelion School House opened its doors on May 9, 2018, and business hasn't slowed since. Carved children's names are still visible on the front wall of the school house, which has since been painted red. A manicured path of red brick pavers lead up to the front steps — two, to be precise, with a white guardrail to keep you steady before you pass through into Brower's realm of imagination and design finesse.
"Repurposed" is the name of her game, as Brower specializes in transforming the old and forgotten into classy, hip, everyday items that will find a permanent place in your home. From stuffed teddy bears made of vintage bedspreads to purses crafted from Victorian "crazy quilts," there's truly something for everyone. She even transformed an old barrel washer into a side table with interior storage.
Grandmothers and millennials alike wander through her store, noses filling with the luxurious smell of floral arrangements combined with candle scents ranging from barrel-aged maple to Irish wild cream. One can't help but notice the fine details put into her treasures, like antique clasps, satin ribbons, and intricate embroidery. Dainty baby blue and pink rose teacup sets beg to be admired, while hand-crafted dolls stare at smile-inducing wall art and cotton hand towels with humorous sayings. Old stairway spindles find new life as candlesticks, and various penny mats and runners reveal Brower's rustic appreciation for 1800s-inspired sewing techniques using coin-shaped fabric scraps.
"I never throw anything away," Brower laughs. "I'm 71 and haven't quit playing. I never stop. Even when I go to bed at night, my mind never stops. It's probably a sort of insanity."
Sassy T-shirts, made from Brower's daughter's Columbus-based company, are also available for sale, proclaiming the wearer's love for everything ranging from coffee to country life.
Regardless of the means a person takes to get there, Brower encourages people to pursue a simpler lifestyle that brings you back in touch with your childhood and sense of imagination. "A lot of kids don't know what it's like to have your mother hold a dandelion under your chin and make your chin yellow like you really like butter," Brower says. "We used to take the clover and the dandelion and make rings and wear them around our heads. I had an old lace curtain I'd throw on my head, too, and my big old white rubber boots I'd go out in the puddles with, and an old slip. I was the prettiest bride ever … I've never grown up, and I probably won't."
Dandelion School House, located at 4554 Mercer Van Wert County Line Road, Rockford, Ohio, is open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 567-259-7295.