Restoring the Freeman School shutters

A Beatrice company is involved with efforts to repair shutters and windows at Homestead National Monument's Freeman School.

The Freeman School is a one-room brick schoolhouse that is owned by Homestead National Monument of America. The school was a center for education for kids on the prairie from 1872 to 1967. Today, the interior has been restored to the way it would have looked in the late 1800's. But, the shutters on the outside of the building have taken a beating from the Nebraska elements. Now, they are being repaired at Ratigan-Schottler furniture manufacturers in Beatrice. "Some of these shutters are 20 to 30 years old," Homestead Facility Manager Travis Allen said. "Down around the bottoms where the moisture seems to sit, they get rotten. The shutters are old enough to where you can't just go to one of your local big box stores to replace them."

To maintain the historical value and look of the shutters, Homestead officials turned to the expert craftsmen at Ratigan-Schottler. The company is known for making handmade solid wood furniture for churches, courtrooms and universities. While learning about the shutters and window restoration project, we also got a chance to see the inside of the business and learn what happens there.

"About 80 percent of the stuff we do is custom," Ratigan-Schottler Operations Manager Stoney Brooks said. "If it's something you can make out of wood, we are the people to go to. Everything is built to the order. Once we get an order in, we order the lumber that is specific to that job, and we go through and have everything designed and drawn up. When it's finally approved, we build it."

During a visit to the factory, we caught up with workers in the chancel department. "They make pulpits, lecterns, they build judges benches and witness stands," Brooks said. "We have a department that just does chairs. We have a pew department, and there are multiple sub-departments of that." Once the furniture is made, it goes to a finish room. "It comes in bare," Brooks said. "They start out and handle the pieces three or four times to make sure the stain is done, the sealer is done, and the lacquer is done. Then, it goes to our dock area where we pack it up, ship it out, and eventually install it ourselves."

Ratigan-Schottler employees put a lot of know-how into each piece of furniture, and the finished product is always done with an attention to detail. The business may be a bit unknown to locals, but across the country, it has a solid reputation, just like the wood the craftsmen work with in the factory. "I think there are only two or three major companies that work with solid lumber like we do. So, it's really easy for us to go in and take over projects just because of the nature of our product, what it's made of, and the good traits that it comes with," Brooks said.