RIPON (NBC 26) — The 2024 Republican nominee for president will be officially selected just an hour and a half drive away from where the first official public meeting of the Republican Party took place.
In 1854, local leaders gathered at the “Little White Schoolhouse” in Ripon to protest the expansion of slavery and left as a new political party — the Republican Party.
Many contemporary members of that party will be returning to the schoolhouse 170 years later to visit during the 2024 Republican National Convention.
The Little White Schoolhouse in Ripon is a source of pride for the community, but there is controversy surrounding its current location.
The Little White Schoolhouse was moved to West Fond du Lac Avenue in April after the land surrounding the previous location was sold to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club. The Ripon Chamber of Commerce owns the schoolhouse, but does not own the land that surrounded that previous location.
Mandy Kimes with the Ripon Chamber of Commerce said this will help expand the schoolhouse, as well as draw more tourists to Ripon.
“Now, being right here in a much more visible place and having an area for people to safely park and access the schoolhouse … we’ve already seen an increase in foot traffic and people stopping by,” Kimes said.
But this comes with a price.
The schoolhouse was removed from the National Historic Registry after it was moved —though it currently maintains its National Landmark status. This was much to the dismay of Fond du Lac County Republican Party Chair Timothy Bachleitner, who said the building should have remained in its location in the Ripon historic district.
“When you drive here, the memories, the reverence, what’s going to happen inside every young person, is nowhere compared to what would have taken place just two miles away in the historic district,” Bachleitner said.
This is actually the sixth time the schoolhouse has been moved, but this is the first time it's moved since it received the historic designation, which Kimes said they are planning to reapply for with the help of a historic preservation consultant.
“We are very willing and open and working with them now to give them all of those details and make sure this place gets all the recognition it deserves,” Kimes said.
The chamber received a letter March 20 notifying them that the move will cause the building to lose its status.
Kimes said the wording of the letter was confusing, and they believed they could regain the status nationally since it was already retaining its state designation.
“We were very surprised to find out and it was about a month before the move was scheduled but the land, everything had already been transferred and things were already in motion, and we did not have clarification about what it meant,” Kimes said.
Kimes said the chamber immediately began to reapply, a process she said is more complicated now than when the schoolhouse originally received the distinction.
Bachlietner says he thinks the chamber should not have proceeded after this notification, and says it will affect the way Republicans who visit in 2024 will think about the landmark.
“There will be 10,000 Republicans who hear this story and they will not be coming to the little white schoolhouse to celebrate the move,” Bachlietner said. “They’ll be coming to the little white schoolhouse to express their betrayal.”
The new location will feature a visitor center, bathrooms and expanded parking. Kimes said she hopes it will draw people to this historic site.
Kimes and Bachlietner agree that the Little White Schoolhouse will be a focal point in 2024.
“We’re planning for special events, maybe some speakers, and definitely some photo opportunities,” Kimes said. “So we think this would be a great hour and a half drive before the convention or after.
Bachlietner also agrees that it will be a special place for RNC attendees, but has different ideas for how to best showcase it.
“There have been ideas that this should be picked up on a trailer and should be taken all the way to the RNC and housed in the convention center,” Bachlietner said.
There is one thing that the Ripon community can agree on: the Little White Schoolhouse is a massive source of pride for the city, especially ahead of the 2024 RNC.