April 23, 2007
Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Schools celebrate 150 years
Submitted by Laura Barta
The 2006-07 school year marks the 150th anniversary of the organization of Independent School District 877 or Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District.
When it all began
In April 1857, the Buffalo county commissioners established the Buffalo school district. By the end of that year, the number of “scholars” in the district was 17 (ages 4-21). The first school was approved for construction in January 1858 and was to be open and ready for students by June 1858. The school was constructed out of logs, one story high, and was only 20 feet by 20 feet. The cost to build the school was not to exceed $250.
Since the first school was built, many building additions and new buildings have taken shape. By 1885, more farmers had moved into the area, causing the school population to grow. A new school was built that was believed to be “ample for all time to come.” It contained four classrooms; only two were occupied. In 1889, there were 150 students in the school and the school board agreed to open the last two rooms. By 1895, another addition had to be made.
District growth brings change
There have been many changes over the past 150 years in the school district. There have been changes in students, staff, curriculum, and building structure, just to name a few.
Classrooms in the Buffalo school were run like one-room schools; students in grades 1 - 8 were together. This was done to keep families together and it allowed students to progress through school at their own rate. In 1891, as a “response to editorials in the local newspaper,” the school was divided into eight grades, where each teacher taught two grades. The ultimate goal was to add high school courses to expand the program.
Students began studying high school subjects in 1892, but not without criticism. Letters to the editor in the Buffalo Journal documented that people thought spending money for the high school was taking away “money, space and effort” from the lower grades. Others would argue that Buffalo students “deserved the best.” By 1903, Buffalo High School became accredited.
As multiple additions were made to the original 1885 school, it was no longer enough to support the number of students. By 1895 the student enrollment had grown to 220 students. It wasn’t until the spring of 1908, when residents approved with a vote of 105 - 13 to build a new brick high school (known today as Discovery Center/Elementary).
Do you ever remember a time when public school textbooks weren’t free? Most likely not. After many months of discussion, the district’s school board decided on the “free textbook” rule in 1897. Students would no longer have to purchase their own textbooks; the school would now provide them. This generated people writing letters to the editor stating that if parents want their children to go to school, they should pay for it, not the rest of the taxpayers.
In the early years, many students went home to eat lunch. If it was too far to go home, students would bring their lunch to school in a paper sack. There was no hot lunch program until about the 1940s when the National School Lunch Program began.
There was also no bus service. Many students walked long distances to get to school or if they were lucky, they were driven to school by horse and buggy. So depending on the age of the person making the claim, those stories about walking five miles to school, uphill in a snowstorm just might be true!
In 1903, Buffalo High School became accredited and students needed 16 credits to graduate (today students need 30). Students took classes such as zoology, bookkeeping, commercial arithmetic, ancient history, physics, and Virgil.
What was Virgil? Virgil was an author, a Roman poet who wrote epic poetry. He lived in 70 - 19 BC. You won’t find this class in today’s high school.
In 1909, a Normal Training School was established as a part of the Buffalo High School under the direction of Miss Helen Hill of St. Cloud. Students could take these classes to earn a teaching license to teach in a rural school after high school. This typically took one year to complete and classes were primarily taken by seniors in addition to their regular course work. By 1915, nine prospective teachers were enrolled in the program.
Before the mass consolidation of school districts in 1970 - 71, the countryside around Buffalo, Hanover, and Montrose was scattered with a number of individual schoolhouses that were considered their own individual school district.
Montrose was known as District 38. It developed in the city that was named after Montrose, Pennsylvania (the town in the home county of the first settler, George M. Wright). Montrose was plotted in 1878 and incorporated as a village in 1881. It’s uncertain when the first school was actually built, but a fire destroyed the school in 1904 and in 1905 the school was rebuilt.
It is estimated that in the late 1960s Montrose joined the Buffalo School District. The current elementary school was built in 1976. There have been three additions to the building to accommodate for growth, in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and in 2004.
In 1892, in conjunction with Wright County, Hanover constructed its first wood framed country schoolhouse. It was located on a hill where the old County Road 19 (River Road) and Church Street intersect.
The school had two floors with a bell located at the very top. The bell had a long rope, and each morning someone would ring it to signify the start of school. Eight grades were served at the school; the first four on the main level and grades five through eight on the second level.
There were wood floors throughout, blackboards and the walls were covered in tin with designs on them. The water fountain, filled by pails, often would freeze in the winter by Monday morning if it were not drained. It wouldn’t thaw until a fire warmed up the room.
It wasn’t until 1958 when a new, brick school with three rooms was built in the school’s current location on LeBeaux Avenue (County Road 19). With 165 students in grades K-6 (grades 7 and 8 went to Buffalo), there were only 6.5 teachers, one aide, a part-time secretary, and a full-time custodian.
Just before the 1969 additions, the Hanover District joined the Buffalo School System. More additions were made to the building to accommodate the student growth. In the early 1970s, a church basement was used as a classroom because the 270 students could no longer fit in the school. At the start of the 2006-07 school year, staff and students benefited from another new addition of classrooms, KidKare and Early Childhood Family Education rooms, and a multi-purpose room (gym space). Today Hanover’s enrollment is almost 500 students.
The first “annual”
The first BHS “annual,” or yearbook, (as it was called then) was printed in 1915 and was called “The Buffalo.” In 1916, students named it “The Bison,” but later called it “The Buffalo” again before settling on its current name “Tatanka” which is Lakota for “bison.”
The book was only about 60 pages long (today it averages over 240 pages) and contained very few photos. One page was needed for staff; there were only six. The only class to have their photos published was the senior class. Underclassmen pages consisted of artwork and an “article” that told about the class. Each senior photo was printed with a quote from them such as Geo. A. Russell’s, “Money, fame and glory, he will win by oratory.” Jokes, poetry, and art were also common in the book.
Athletics included boys’ and girls’ basketball, track and field, and baseball. Activities included literary, debate, orchestra, and dramatics.
Students keep active
In the early days of the school district, extra curricular opportunities for students were minimal. In 1908, Buffalo had its first boys’ basketball team and by 1910 they were one of the best teams in the state. There was also baseball, track and field, girls’ basketball, and in 1923 football was introduced.
The yearbook established itself during the 1914-15 school year. Boys’ and girls’ glee clubs (singing) began in 1913, and in 1914 an orchestra was organized. Superintendent Davis selected the best students in the lower grades and high school to participate.
In 1915, the debate team consisted of one girl and two boys. That same year two plays were also produced, “Aaron Boggs,” “Freshman and Dodging an Heiress.” Each had about 14 cast members.
Other activities developed such as declamatory and oratory (speech events) as the years passed. Today there are 50 different activities, just at the high school level, with over 1,200 students participating. Students also have more opportunities at the elementary and middle school levels. With activities offered through Community Education and the middle school offering intramural programs, there are more choices than ever before for students.
The 2006-07 school year will go down in history books as one of the most successful in high school sports, and activities. For the fist time in 76 years the BHS boys basketball team went to state. The last time the team competed at state was in 1931. Buffalo resident Gordy Burkland at age 94 took time to meet with the team before the state tournament to instill some inspiration and was present to see their win.
The Buffalo team had made it to state nine times from 1917 to 1931. Burkland and the 1931 team accomplished a second place finish. However, that record was beat March 24, 2007 as the boys team went all the way to claim the Class 4A state boys basketball championship title.
The BHS mock trial team also won the state competition for the first time in school history and will move on to participate in the national competition May 10 - 13 in Dallas, Texas. The team was undefeated going into the state competition.
We’ve come a long way
The district has come a long way in 150 years. There have been many successes and achievements. Over the past two years the district has opened a new elementary school, and added onto Hanover Elementary, Montrose Elementary, Buffalo Community Middle School, Buffalo High School, and Phoenix Learning Center. As growth continues, more development is certain to follow and with it will come more advances and opportunities.
“Buffalo: From Trading Post to Star City” by Marcia Paulsen
“Montrose Minnesota 1881-1981” (book contributions from local, current and former residents)
1970’s Hanover Yearbook
Wright County Historical Society
“Safe from the Outside World, A Social History of Hanover, Minnesota” by Mary Coons