Farm Horizons, Feb. 2016

New book tells about country schools in McLeod County

By Starrla Cray

It was 1941. Magdalen Ardolf Miller was 18 years old, and had just started her first teaching job at a country school near Winsted.

“Some of the 20 kids were only one year younger than I, with some of the boys being 6 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier than me,” Miller recalled. “My wage was $80 a month for nine months.”

Miller’s experiences – and the stories of others who remember country schools in McLeod County – are recorded in a new book from the McLeod County Historical Society & Museum, called “History of the Country Schools of McLeod County.”

“It has over 300 country school pictures that were put together from our collection,” executive director Lori Pickell-Stangel said. “We also have a DVD with personal memories.”

Purchased together, the DVD and 171-page book are $40. Separately, book is $25, and the DVD is $20.

Days gone by

Most of the country schools in McLeod County opened in the late 1800s or early 1900s, and closed in the 1940s or 1950s.

“I realize today that my experience of attending a country school was extraordinary – even amazing – to modern children,” Beatrice Pishney Butryn noted in the book. “I received a good education, plus I learned responsibility and social skills with older and younger children. I wouldn’t trade that background, or growing up on a farm as I did, for anything.”

Beatrice was one of two first-graders at “Meadow Dale” country school near Highway 7 in 1947.

“Our one-room school had no running water, two outhouses for boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, a pump house where we got our water for drinking and hand washing from the well, and a small storage building for unused desks,” she noted. “It sat on about one acre of land, so there was ample room for play during recesses where softball, hide and seek, dodge ball, and other games were played. The only playground equipment was a set of monkey bars.”

Sometimes, the furnace would break down in the winter, and one of the older boys had to walk to a nearby farm house to call for help. Students would huddle around with their coats, scarves, and boots on trying to keep warm while waiting for a school board member to get the furnace working again.

An entry in the book from Martha Carlson also describes cold-weather challenges. She began teaching in 1917, in the building used as Hale Township Hall until a new one was built in 2004.

“One January day when all pupils were present, a bad snowstorm suddenly hit,” Carlson noted. “It became so bad that our neighbor (Mr. Plamann) walked into the school very nervous and excited and exclaimed, ‘Don’t send any child home unless someone is here to get them.’ Consequently, several fathers came with horses and sleds to get their children, except three who had no way to get home, so I had to keep them overnight for three days. We did get word to their parents, so they didn’t have to worry.”

To purchase a book and/or DVD, contact the museum at (320) 587-2109 or email

See the country school sites

In addition to creating a book and DVD, the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum also recently recognized two country schools with dedication markers.

One marker is for District 6 in Rich Valley Township, known as “Riverside” or “Koniska” school, which closed in 1954. Only a few foundation stones remain of the building, and the land is now owned and managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The sign features a QR code link that visitors can scan with a smart phone to hear a story told by Verda Graupman Templin, who attended the school through eighth grade.

The second dedication marker is in the Sumter Township wildlife management area, representing the District 30 country school, which operated from 1866 to 1953

Country school quiz

How much do you know about the history of country schools in McLeod County?

Q1: Which McLeod County township had a country school known as the “Elm Tree” or “Piper School”? The school was organized in 1862 and closed in 1954.

A1: Bergen Township

Q2: Why was the country school in Collins Township (organized in 1866) known as the “Round School”?

A2: The school building had a round shape, like an octagon. It was a unique landmark between Brownton and Stewart until it was torn down in 1965.

Q3: In what year did Charles Albrecht become the first teacher at “Sunnyside School” in Glencoe Township?

A3: 1888

Q4: This woman taught school northwest of Glencoe (in District 65) from 1927 to 1930. Her husband later won the Minnesota US Senate seat in Washington D.C.

A4: Elenore Moravec. She died at age 32, shortly after giving birth to her second child. More than 1,000 people attended her wake and funeral.

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