The Schoolhouse Project


It's official! Today Elizabeth and I have taken the money we would have used on location rentals and cake cutting fees and corking fees and all of that and, with a lot of help from parents and siblings, bought a broken down 1920s schoolhouse on 10 acres of cow pasture in Willow River, Minnesota. We are going to spend the next year fixing it up and planning a schoolhouse wedding. Then the schoolhouse will live on as the Stattmiller-Richardson family cabin.

Apart from wanting a wedding that is unique to Seth & Elizabeth, we wanted a way to include as many people in the process as possible. The schoolhouse needs a lot of work, so please join us! We need the help! This summer we will be driving the two hours to Willow River almost every weekend. If you've got the time, come with us. Otherwise, when will we have time to hang out with you?

Finally, we want to show what can be done outside of the wedding industrial complex. We are very blessed to have some resources of our own and to have a supportive family, but we are also doing this on a budget. What follows is the story of how we're doing it!

We could not be more excited. We could not be more proud to be a part of this effort. It's an ambitious project and we will need to get lots of help, but it feels right and we're getting so much support. Thanks to everyone!

Little schoolhouse on the prairie. 5/25/14


Yesterday we took on a huge remodeling project. Today Rehab Addict called to offer Elizabeth a job as associate producer. The coincidence is astounding. Besides being a rare paid film gig in Minneapolis, this position will give her an incredible education on remodeling projects while we work on the schoolhouse. And she may get the opportunity to work in Detroit which, conveniently, is where her screenplay is based!

Scored a wheelbarrow and a bunch of hose while trolling Bloomington's dumpster days. Officially called Curbside Cleanup, Bloomington holds an annual event where residents can dispose of items too large for their regular trash hauler by setting these items out in front of their house. Not surprisingly, this attracts thousands of scrappers, junk dealers, antiquers, trollers, and tourists.

Being a world class dumpster diver, I have to be there. It is always a good hunt and I get some great stuff, but more than that it is like a city-wide party. The scavengers are happy to get free stuff and the residents, already thrilled to be getting rid of their junk, are happy to sit and watch the parade. Pickup trucks piled to overflowing with scrap metal or furniture present an impressive sight. Just seeing what your neighbors are throwing away can create a conversation.

The event actually goes on for five weekends and through it all I got a couple dozen chairs, 10 or so lamps, 4 folding tables, 3 wheel barrows, 20 doors for the museum, 5 bicycles, 2 super sweet old Pepsi Cola crates, an antique desk and chair for my office, a grill for the shop, rakes, shovels, brooms, 2 trash bins, and half of the props Elizabeth needed for a retro-future cyberpunk film shoot.

Definitely worth the gas.

Property marker? 3/30/14


Action by committee is slow. We finally got insurance set up today. I started getting quotes weeks ago, but those came in slowly. Then I had to run them by everybody and wait for their opinions to roll in. Then rotate the arguments so that everyone was hearing everyone else. Then make sure everyone was on board with the final decision. Then it turned out it was a lot cheaper to bundle our house and the car. And around and around.

Walking the property line (Elizabeth, Sylas, Dad). 3/30/14


Getting the electricity turned on is harder than it sounds. Rather than wade through the phone tree I started service on A few days later I got a friendly email telling me that Xcel doesn't serve our address. However they did recommend that I try Minnesota Electric. Their website had a map that appeared to contain our schoolhouse. But I got to the sign up after 5:00 on Friday of Memorial Day weekend, so we won't find out until Tuesday at the earliest whether or not they can help us.

We have to get electricity going before we can pump water out of the well (which still has to be drilled).


Our first night at the schoolhouse! Turns out it takes a while to load a 20' trailer and pickup truck with weeks worth of collecting lumber and chairs and hoses and supplies. We were supposed to pick up Lily at 3:00. It was 8:00 when we finally arrived.

We got to use one of the hoses I picked up during Bloomington's Curbside Cleanup event. It's planting time and Elizabeth and my mom already purchased a ton of potted flowers and trees. The plants need to get in the ground, but they also need water. There is a 20' deep "hand dug" well on the property, but we haven't been able to pop the lid yet to see if there is usable water at the bottom. So we bought a 40 gallon trash bin, strapped it down in the bed of the truck and filled it full of water. That much water weighs around 300 LBS, so we did the strapping in before we did the filling. To get from the water spigot to the truck took three hoses, one more than we owned three weeks ago!

And no leaks.

Our ten acres is surrounded on all sides by cow pasture. The neighbors are super nice, but their cows poop a lot. When we got out of the car it smelled like...well it smelled like the cattle barn at the State Fair. And it was strong. An hour later and I still wasn't used to it. Thankfully the inside of the schoolhouse was a protected oasis.


Manure smell gone! Whew. Even the slightest breeze brings in fresh air.

The weekend's agenda involved grading the land around the building's footprint so the rain would slope away from the foundation. There's a bit of water in the basement and we're hoping this solves the problem. Also on the agenda was planting the plants we had brought. Last on the list was a trip to a local greenhouse to get grass seed. The hill upon which the schoolhouse sits is almost barren and it's already starting to erode.

Unfortunately we didn't get to bed until 2am last night, but I woke up at 6:50am and went straight outside to unload the trailer. When Elizabeth and Lily woke up they set to work on the first flower bed in front of the porch. We pulled dirt off the hill and brought it to the base of the foundation. This went on all day except for a two hour break when we went to the greenhouse to pick up grass seed.

Road fill dumped (with permission) by previous owners. 5/8/14

If we raised the soil level in front of the porch by six inches I'd be surprised. We worked all day on just that one side of the building. Only 75% of the plants got in the ground. We didn't even purchase any grass seed. The woman at the greenhouse (who was awesome. If you need planting advice and happen to be in Askov, MN or the MN State Fair, check out Peterson Wildflowers) gave us a twelve point two year plan for getting ground cover to keep the erosion in check. Too much to start today.

The Schoolhouse Project is a mouthful. I just hope it's not more than we can chew. I put in sixteen hours on Sunday. Elizabeth worked fourteen. Lily, who probably didn't realize what she'd gotten herself roped into, put in ten or eleven hours. She was the real hero of the weekend. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of the help, Lily! We couldn't have done it without you!

Grading with Lily. 5/25/14

As it was, we still didn't get home until 2am again. We're going to have to step up our game if we want this place to be ready for a wedding in a year.

We got home exhausted, but in good spirits. The schoolhouse is ours. Even slow progress is a few steps closer to a wild fantasy that we are really bringing to life.


Despite what I thought was a ton of time working to get everyone on the same page, there are still some fundamental disagreements over how to run this thing. I spent a lot of time talking to everyone and getting ideas from the family as I created an operating agreement. We sat down as a family to discuss it. I encouraged everyone to make themselves familiar with it. Apparently only Anna actually read it.

Example: The operating agreement lays out a plan for compensating those that pay the bills and buy necessities for the schoolhouse by awarding them an increase in ownership. This makes sure that everyone doing their "share" of the work does not feel burdened by others who perhaps cannot contribute as much for whatever reason. It also provides a kind of incentive for owners to do the work necessary for the upkeep of the property. There is a way for labor to be turned into ownership percentage as well. For weeks I've been collecting lumber and other supplies we would need for the property. The operating agreement explains that contributions of used goods by owners shall be valued at fair market and the contributor shall receive a comparable ownership increase for their contribution. When I brought this up at the meeting, not only was everyone surprised by the idea, but they saw it as unfair also.

Next meeting: read the operating agreement aloud and obtain signatures.

Also, Sylas decided that being an owner was too stressful, so we bought him out. Sad day. The idea behind this whole cabin-up-north plan was for us to have a project to do together.


More disagreement. This is starting to paint a picture of me as a lousy communicator. Elizabeth and I had a long argument tonight about the plan for developing water. There is an existing "hand dug" well on the property already. It is supposedly pretty old and only 20' deep (the neighbor across the street has a well that is 230' deep). This means it is filled with runoff water from surface sources; namely rain. It also means that the water is likely to contain anything laying around up here: fertilizers and pesticides, bacteria and parasites, even rats and snakes. At least this is what I'm told by the well guys that I called.

Long story short, I was under the impression that this well would not do for drinking water. We desperately need water at the schoolhouse in order to irrigate so that we can grow grass on the hill that is already eroding for lack of any vegetation to hold the dirt in place. E wants to spend the next couple weeks investigating the 20' well which, if it works, will save us $10,000. No small amount of money. However, if it doesn't work, it will cost us an extra $2000 for the equipment and expertise to try and may mean missing the planting window for the grass and wildflowers which would mean a giant eroding dirt pile for the wedding.

After much discussion, we have decided to do things Elizabeth's way.

NEXT POST: The Sod Project
The schoolhouse from the back. 6/12/14