Farm Horizons, May 2007

Book features local one-room schoolhouses

Chelsey Rosetter
Herald Journal, Intern

Historic country schoolhouses from Wright, McLeod and Carver counties are featured in a recently released book from Minnesota Historical Society Press, “Schoolhouses of Minnesota.”

The book includes profiles of the following schoolhouses:

• Myrback schoolhouse (District 110) located in French Lake Township of Wright County, north of Cokato.

• District 51 schoolhouse in Rich Valley Township, which is located south of Silver Lake, McLeod County.

• The St. Bernard Catholic School, which is located in Cologne in Carver County (south of Waconia).

The book focusses primarily on buildings that still exist, and is a photographic documentary of these buildings and their legacy.

The intriguing buildings not only hold historical significance today, but also stand as reminders of memories long forgotten.

The Wright County School District 110 was originally organized in 1884, according to information from the Cokato Museum.

Two years later, in 1886, the first logs of the Myrback schoolhouse were put in place, and after one year of construction, the schoolhouse was complete.

On the first day of class, 35 pupils gathered for lessons. Taught by 17-year-old Miss Grace Allen of Annandale, the students, grades one through eight, practiced songs and subjects together.

John Mattson, one of the first to attend the school and later, a member of the school board, reminisced in an article published in 1937.

He and others remembered how Miss Allen walked three miles every day through the woods to get to school, accompanied always by a big, brown dog.

Mattson described the schoolhouse, as well. “Our first building was a small log structure. An old box stove occupied the whole center of the room and the furnishings were very rude and scant.”

That small log structure stood tall and served the district for almost 10 years before it was rebuilt, the second time with a bell tower. The second Myrback schoolhouse is still in its place, eight-and-a-half miles north of Cokato, near the North Fork of the Crow River.

The Myrback school closed down in 1958 due to consolidation, and eventually the quarter-acre of land and the building were sold.

The total price of $550 that Clarence and Hazel Benson paid for the property was a substantial increase from the $1.50 the original trustees had forked over, according to the Cokato Museum. All the furnishings, books, etc. were sold at auction.

Over the years, the silence of Myrback hall has occasionally been broken with the familiar laughter and sounds of its past. Reunions to catch up and recall fond childhood memories have taken place on a few different occasions.

Most recently, in 1989, 30 former students gathered to give the Myrback building and outhouse a much-needed facelift. The cracked paint, dusty rooms, and overgrown lawn were all tended to, and everyone in attendance was happy with the outcome.

Photographer of “Schoolhouses of Minnesota,” Doug Ohman described the still-standing building as a “classic country schoolhouse,” complete with a bell tower, although sadly, the bell has been gone for some time.

The country school routine was much the same for those who attended in District 51 in McLeod County, however, classes were slightly larger. In 1888, the Glencoe Register listed 100 pupils enrolled for seven months of the year in the cozy brick schoolhouse. About $35 per month in wages were paid to teacher Ms. Anna Boylan.

Many other teachers followed, including Ms. Helen Pofahl Piehl, who led classes during the late 1940s. Teaching a total of 13 years in various country schools, Ms. Piehl has many memories of her days in the classroom.

“Each morning, we started the day with opening exercises, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and others from the Golden Book of Songs,” she remembered.

Ms. Piehl thoroughly enjoyed the time she spent teaching. “I loved to teach and loved my students. I always felt my children at school were like one big, happy family. We worked together, played together, and helped each other.”

Some of Piehl’s fondest memories include folk dancing at recess, the Thanksgiving and Christmas programs, spring-time raking, the wiener and marshmallow roast, and of course the last day of school with its picnic dinner and games.

The photography and text for “Schoolhouses of Minnesota,” the fourth book in the Minnesota Byways series, were put together by Doug Ohman and Jim Heynen.

Those who are interested in ordering the book may go online to www.Amazon.com.

Other books in the Byways series are Churches of Minnesota, Barns of Minnesota, and Courthouses of Minnesota.

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