As the weather has turned cooler with fall here and with school in session, it seems like an appropriate time to look back at the early schools in the Story City area. P.A. Olson, the editor of the 1940 Story City Herald Anniversary Book, included an article written in 1890 about the public schools and the country schools, plus articles by W.A. Wier and J.H. Frandsen also mention memories from early school days.
To begin talking about schools in the area, we have to go all the way back to 1856, which was the first year school was taught. The first teacher was Ann Sutlief and the log house of Richard Jenness was used as the school. In 1857 a schoolhouse was built on the public square in Fairview. According to W.A. Wier, the building was 20 by 24 feet, and was for some years the finest schoolhouse in the north half of Story County. The schoolhouse was also used as a place for religious services and other public gatherings.
The article written in 1890 gives details about the third school building in Story City. It was completed in 1881 at the cost of about $3,500. The building was a frame structure consisting of two stories with four rooms. It was located at approximately 627 Elm Ave. The school employed three teachers and a principal and according to the 1890 article, “in 1889 the enrollment was 62 in the principal’s room, 32 intermediate, and 70 primary.”
The 1890 article also gave statistics on the country schools in Story County based on a report from 1889. The report showed an average attendance of 3,109 of a total enrollment of 5,027. These school children were attending in 27 independent and 116 sub-districts, with 35 rooms of graded and 133 ungraded schools. The schools employed 79 men and 233 women teachers, at average monthly salaries of $43.80 and $29.01 respectively. The total amount paid to teachers in 1889 was $41,713.
In his article, J.H. Frandsen shared a memory from one of these country school districts, the Copenhagen district school. O.B. Peterson was Frandsen’s first teacher at the school in the early 1880’s. During this time the “country youngsters were raised mostly on homegrown foods and carried our more or less dry sandwich lunches to school. O.B., on the other hand, often brought a whole tin can of pears or peaches in his lunch. I can still see the appealing, beautifully colored labels on those tin cans. Then one day, to my astonishment and delight, he pulled out with his jack-knife a whole pear and marched down to my seat with it and and asked me to try it. Oh boy, was that good! It was my first taste of a canned pear and never have I had one that tasted better.” Fifty-five years later Frandsen wrote a letter to Mr. Peterson telling him of the goodness of that pear and that his act of generosity and kindness lives on in his memory.
We hope you have enjoyed this brief look at early schools in the Story City area. The Historical Society is fortunate to have a wonderful example of an early one room country school in our Sheldall Schoolhouse Museum, which was once located just a few miles north of Story City in southern Hamilton county. Several of the teachers mentioned in these articles in the 1940 Story City Herald Anniversary Book also taught at the Sheldall Schoolhouse, including O.B. Peterson and W.A. Wier. If you would like to tour the Sheldall Schoolhouse, please contact the Historical Society.