[Morgan Anderson | WOUB]

An old Chauncey school is becoming a restaurant and brewery, with a nod to its history

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CHAUNCEY, Ohio (WOUB) — As Brooke and Austin McDonough have been renovating the old Chauncey School, they’ve come across all sorts of surprises.

“We’ve been finding random rooms,” Brooke said.

Like two hidden classrooms covered up by drywall.

The classrooms looked untouched, with writing still on the chalkboards and a copy of USA Today from 1997 lying on a desk.

“The classrooms portion we didn’t even know existed because it was all blocked off,” Brooke said. “There was a wall in front of the door that was built and we had to tear it down to get to the door.” 

The McDonoughs have high hopes for the old school, which they are turning it into a restaurant and brewery.

But they plan to preserve some of its rich history. The couple plans to keep as much of the exterior brick as they can and add velvet curtains to the auditorium stage for live music.

“We’re keeping the brick on the front of the building and on the inside we have to cover up some of it for insulation,” Brooke said. “But the bar is going to have the brick around it. The stage is still going to have the brick on the outside, and we’re going to try to keep the floors as original as possible. We may have to re-stain and replace them due to some past damage, but we’re trying to keep the look of the history alive. I hope to have some old pictures up in the entryway — that way people can see what it used to be.”

When Rowhammer Brewery Company opens for business in Chauncey, it will be the first business of its kind for the area since the coal mines were open, said Amy Renner, the mayor of Chauncey.

“At one point, Chauncey during its heyday with the mines being open had shopping, food and restaurants — everything right in town,” Renner said. “Over the past several decades we’ve lost all of those amenities, so a big part of this project is rebuilding our economy again. Brooke and Austin are really the flagships of that and it’s just exciting to have people who are really interested in being a part of the village and honoring our heritage through their preservation work.”

The McDonoughs plan to have a microbrewery in the basement where the old bus garage was and Austin will be the brewer. Angie Straw will be in charge of the kitchen. Straw is the chef at Cameron Mitchell’s Ocean Club in Columbus and former chef at Restaurant Salaam in Athens.

A dream come true

Brooke and Austin are both from Port Clinton, but after Brooke completed her undergraduate degree and graduate school at Ohio University, they decided to call southeast Ohio home. The couple are raising their four kids just outside of Athens, balancing their time between family, work and their fixer-upper project.

“My husband and I have been looking for a property to open a brewery on,” Brooke said. “My husband’s been brewing for over 10 years now, and we looked in Mansfield for a while when we lived there. Then we moved down here and heard that they may be selling the school and that we could buy it.”

An old chair sits untouched in one of the classrooms the McDonoughs uncovered. [WOUB | Ahmed Hamed]
Brooke McDonough and her husband, Austin, have been chipping away at their fixer-upper project since 2020. [WOUB | Ahmed Hamed]
The gymnasium and auditorium will become home to Rowhammer Brewing Company. The McDonoughs plan on adding a mezzanine to the space for multi-level seating. [WOUB | Ahmed Hamed]
A vacant classroom remains untouched since school let out in the 1960s. [WOUB | Ahmed Hamed]
A USA Today newspaper published Dec. 18, 1997, lies on a school desk. [WOUB | Ahmed Hamed]
Brooke McDonough walks through the old school as she explains her latest renovations. [WOUB | Ahmed Hamed]
The bus garage will become the site for Austin McDonough's microbrewery, where he will brew his own craft beer. [WOUB | Ahmed Hamed]
An old desk sits in one of the abandoned classrooms. [WOUB | Ahmed Hamed]
One of the school's classrooms was once an art studio. The McDonoughs plan on turning the classrooms into the employee break rooms. [WOUB | Ahmed Hamed]

By starting this new business endeavor, Brooke said it will tie her family to the region forever.

“We’re here and we’re here for good,” she said. 

Chauncey School was a kindergarten through high school established in 1914. The school closed its doors for the final time in the 1960s when it consolidated with Athens City School District.

The school’s campus is made up of three buildings, all of which have seen a variety of uses.

The smallest of the three is close to 9,000 square feet and will be home to the restaurant and brewery. In its school days, it was the gymnasium and auditorium and had a bus garage in the basement.

Next door was the main school building. But the building was knocked down in March because of the poor architectural condition it was in. Brooke said it will open up green space on the hill that the campus sits on allowing for outdoor seating.

The last of the three buildings is 12,000 square feet. After the school closed, it became a print shop and in the 1990s it became a general education development (GED) school. In the 2000s, the GED school closed and the building sat vacant until the McDonoughs stepped in. Brooke said they hope to turn this building into an Airbnb or hotel one day.

‘A world-class destination’

Although Brooke and Austin did not plan on becoming entrepreneurs with a project this lofty, they said it was part of a larger investment.

“With the new Baileys Trail System opening, we thought it would be a great opportunity,” Brooke said. “A lot of times breweries do really well with a trailhead for running and biking. My husband’s also an ultra-marathon trail runner, so it’s kind of both of his interests in one with the brewery and the trails.”

The Baileys Trail System, when completed, will feature 88 miles of trails for primarily mountain bike riding, but which can also be used for running and hiking. Forty-seven miles have been completed so far.

The trail system connects three communities: Chauncey as the main trail head and pilot community, Doanville and Buchtel. Once it is complete, the trail system is projected to bring 180,000 people into the area, making business investments like Brooke and Austin’s worthwhile.

“It’s a world-class destination,” Renner said. “It’ll be the largest continuous trail system east of the Mississippi River when it’s complete. It’s already drawing a lot of nationwide attention and it’s a really well-built system.”

Renner said it is a work in progress as funding comes in, and the trail is close to being fully funded. Once the trail system is complete, Renner said, it will also have a visitor center and a campground.

“The park itself has really brought this new sense of hope that I think was lost for a long time in Chauncey and people know we’re on the brink of something really cool,” Renner said. 

To follow along with the McDonoughs and their renovations of the old Chauncey School, visit their Instagram page @chaunceydoverschoolreno.