Source: History of Nicollet and LeSueur Counties Minnesota, Volume I, Illustrated; Chapter XI; Hon. William G. Gresham editor (1916) transcribed by Nancy Overlander
Notwithstanding some of the older states can boast of colleges and universities with traditions attached to their titles, and where great American statesmen have graduated in long ago years, when it comes to an excellent common school system of great efficiency, of broad scope and practical learning, Minnesota stands second to none in the Union of states. In 1873 LeSueur county had ninety school districts, every one of which made its official report to the county school superintendent, a thing worthy of note for those early days in the history of Minnesota. Such reports showed there were eighty-six school buildings in the county, fifty-two of which were log, thirty frame and three built from stone. The total value of all school property in this county in 1874 was $34,835; number of children of school age, 5,490; teachers, fifty-eight males and thirty-two females; amount expended for schools in 1874, was $12,100.
The various sections of the county had public schools about in the following order as to dates:
In Ottawa township the first school was taught privately in 1856 by Prudence Bacon in a small log house built in section 34, just back from the town site of Ottawa. There were seventeen scholars. Early in the eighties, the township had three good schools, districts No. 2, 3 and 12. In the village district there was built at that date a fine two-story stone building furnished with comfortable desks and other furniture. In this school there were seventy pupils. Of the present standing of schools in the township the superintendent's report, later on in this chapter, will treat in detail.
In Lexington township as early as the winter of 1856 a school was organized with twenty scholars taught by S.J. Baldwin and held at a private house. The settlers there took great interest in establishing the pioneer school and much interest was manifested by the pupils and many an old settler will recalls the school and many laughable and pathetic incidents connected therewith.
In LeSueur township the first attempt at conducting a school was during the winter of 1857, when a term was taught by Silas Myrick, in a small frame school house erected the autumn before. In 1858, Mattie Pearson took the school and taught for one year, having an attendance of from fifteen to twenty-two pupils. This school house served well its purpose for a number of years. Soon after the consolidation in 1871 a move was made to build a new building and the following year a handsome two-story brick structure was built. Four grades were then established and the schools were the pride of the township. In 1882 the average attendance was two hundred and sixty-nine. Prof. C. M. Green took charge of the schools in 1881 and had the aid of six assistants.
In Elysian township the first school was taught in either 1856 or 1857, in a log building erected at that date, the same serving for school purposes a number of years. In 1882 the township supported seven school districts and had six substantial school buildings.
In Waterville township education matters received some attention as early as 1857; a small building was erected, and a school opened by Miss Davison (later Mrs. Hitchcock) with an attendance of thirteen pupils. A few years later a larger school building was provided by the district. In the eighties Waterville independent district was formed, and they built a nine-thousand-dollar building, in which a graded system was installed, with Professor Hedger as principal. In 1882 the records show the township had nine districts and eight had good school buildings.
In Kasota township Elizabeth Hunt (later the wife of Daniel B. Barstow, who for more than twenty-five years was conductor on the Great Northern railway out of St. Paul) taught the first school in 1858, in a private residence, the attendance being fifteen scholars. In 1860 a good two-story school house was built and 1881 the attendance was fifty-five scholars and the township had nine sub-districts.
In Cleveland township educational matters received no attention until 1858, when a school was opened in a town hall, with an attendance of upwards of fifty scholars. One of the first teachers was Rev. A. Montgomery. In 165 a frame building was erected two stories high, and in 1880 a better school house was erected by the township. This had the first patent seats in the township, and had many "modern" conveniences, says the record. The number of districts in the township in the early eighties was eight.
In Cordova township in the autumn of 1858 a school was opened in a log building erected by H. Richardson for store purposes, by Kate Hess, there being only seven scholars. In 1861 a better building was erected and by 1881 the township had four districts and each a good school house.
In Kilkenny township Dennis Doyle, in 1858, taught the pioneer school. Fifteen scholars greeted him each morning at his first term. He was a busy man both in and out of the school room - he had a store, a farm and was counted the head of all enterprises in the township.
In Montgomery township not much attention was paid to public schools until about 1860, on account of the thinly settled district and few scholars. Several schools were taught in small buildings here and there over the territory, which was much larger than the present Montgomery township. It was about 1879 when organized districts were established and schools taught regularly. In 1881 there six districts and each had a good, comfortable school house.
In Lanesburg, Sharon and Derrynane townships, there is not definite information concerning the earliest public schools, but it is found from records that in 1882 there were six good schools in Lanesburg township; eight in Sharon township, each having good school houses, and in Derrynane township there were six districts and as many school buildings, up to the standard of buildings at the date.
The County's Present Educational Standing
The present (1916) county school superintendent, D. A. Grussendorf, says of the schools in LeSueur county, in a general survey made by him in his care of the schools of the county recently:
"Our county has five state high schools - one in each of the larger towns - and one consolidated school of high school rank at Cleveland. This particular school is one that the county may well be proud of. It serves as a model of school consolidation for this part of the state. Two years ago the building was put up - thought to be large enough for a long future. But at the end of the first year provision had to be made for doubling the size of the building. The good people of Cleveland have demonstrated that co-operation is another way of spelling success. Brother Knox, the head of the school, is an object of envy to the rest of his calling. With his characteristic energy he strikes out boldly, unhampered by a school board that knows all about consolidated schools. This school runs eight wagons; has four hundred and twenty-five pupils and eight teachers. The building cost $32,000. Communities which contemplate consolidation should come to our county and study the Cleveland plan and its results.
"Besides these high schools there are five semi-graded schools and seventy-eight rural schools, all more directly under the supervision of the county superintendent, the genial James Meagher. The total attendance of all these schools is a little upwards of 4,000 and of this number nearly one-tenth falls to our local school at Montgomery.
"For a long time our high schools were guessing about the content of their courses. They could not break away from the apron strings of traditions of the middle ages. To have the highest type of education it was thought necessary to ape after the mediaeval university. Schools of that time were intended for gentlemen; to prepare them for a noble calling and to escape labor. The language must be unintelligible to the common people which also would have a tendency ti inspire awe. It is surprising that it took so long for our democratic people to become emancipated from such notions. But we are arriving and in a measure have arrived. The viewpoint is changed. We not try to educate everyone that he may do more and better work, and not to escape work. Education was for a few, it is now for all and therefore has become more complex in its directions. The old studies of Greek, Latin, and metaphysics, perpetuated for their own sake and for the sake of tradition; had to give way to courses in hand and eye training, agriculture and homemaking.
"School patrons could be deceived, and, because they did not care to display their ignorance, were willing to be deceived by poor, wasteful instruction in the earlier subjects, while with the later subjects, they are able to use their judgment more readily and in consequence the instruction must be of a high order to satisfy them. For this reason it can be claimed that patrons are getting more for their money now than was the case before.
"Montgomery was one of the first in the county to introduce the more practical branches of leaning mentioned above. Within the last three years was introduced a course in home economics which begins in the sixth grade, and is carried through the high school. Manual training begins with boys in the sixth grade and agriculture begins with light text book work in the upper grades and ends with a course in soil chemistry and farm management in the senior class of the high school. Montgomery has no normal training department since three other high schools of the he county have the department and are abundantly able to provide teachers for our rural schools, so that some favorite son or daughter from the upper grades or high school
Need not be permitted to practice upon the patient country children without having had some training.
"Montgomery has for a number of years been fortunate in having wide-awake and public spirited men as members of the board of education. Hence we find the building and equipment in first class condition at a minimum of coast. Las year the ventilating system was rearranged and it may now be said to be in perfect condition. A large fan driven by an electric motor furnished a supply of fresh air to all the rooms. Children are supplied with playground apparatus and are healthy and happy. Our high school enrollment at present is the largest in the history of the school and under the care of experienced teachers makes commendable progress, while the grade work, in charge of enthusiastic and efficient teachers, is a pleasure to behold. Over a hundred children of grade age enjoy the instruction of the sisters in St. Raphael's school, where they also received religious instruction. Upon completion of this instruction, they join their neighbors at the public schools.
"It may be truthfully said that of all affairs of a public nature in this community, the public schools of Montgomery rank first and the citizens are interested in having good schools."
State Superintendent C. G. Schulz says of the consolidated rural schools: "The minimum school year is six months. Most schools are in session between seven and eight months. High and graded schools have nine months of school each year. Every child in the state between eight and sixteen years of age is required to attend public or private school regularly. The state makes special grants to the several classes of public schools, in order to maintain high standards in buildings and in teaching. Special grants are made to high and graded schools for teaching agriculture and other industrial subjects. Consolidation of rural schools is encouraged by special annual grants of $500 to each school, of $2,000 for paying the cost of transportation, and $2,000 for the erection of a modern building in a consolidated district."
The Schools of New Prague
While only a portion of the city of New Prague is situated within this county the following concerning the public schools of that place rightfully has a place in this chapter, and was recently compiled by one of the citizens and educators of this place:
"The New Prague public schools comprise eight grades and a high school. Six teachers have charge of the work in the eight grades. The pupil is thoroughly prepared in the common branches by the time he has finished the grade work. The penmanship work in the three upper grades is under the supervision of the commercial teacher of the high school. The girls of these three grades are also allowed to take domestic science. The girls of the sixth grade having sewing one period a week, the seventh grade girls have sewing two periods and cooking two periods a week, while the eighth grade girls take the same work as the freshmen of the high school. When the pupil reaches the high school, he has a choice between two entirely different courses, one of which is intended primarily to give him a general knowledge and to fit him for college, in case he cares to go on with his schooling; the other, the commercial course, is intended to fit a pupil to go into commercial work as soon as he finished school."
Public Schools of 1915
According to a recent report of the county superintendent of schools for LeSueur county there was made the following showing of school interests in this county last year:
Total number of schools houses in county . . . . . 115
Number of frame buildings in county . . . . . 101
Number of brick buildings in county . . . . . 14
Number of books in libraries in county . . . . . 18,522
Number of pupils enrolled in county . . . . . 3,905
Number male teachers in county . . . . . 21
Number of female teachers in county . . . . . 165
Average wages paid teachers, per month . . . . . $75
Number months in school year . . . . . 8 1/2
Total amount expended for schools in county . . . . . $194,596
It will be understood that the various townships have each their regulation number of schools and are all about on an equal footing, so far as being up to the Minnesota standard in educational matters.
Townships . . . . . School houses . . . Enrollment
Lanesburg . . . . . 9 . . . 1915
Derrynane . . . . . 7 . . . 347
Tyrone . . . . . 7 . . . 195
LeSueur . . . . . 2 . . . 285
Ottawa . . . . . 2 . . . 103
Sharon . . . . . 8 . . . 180
Lexington . . . . . 8 . . . 458
Montgomery . . . . . 8 . . . 407
Kilkenny . . . . . 9 . . . 120
Cordova . . . . . 7 . . . 134
Waterville . . . . . 9 . . . 494
Elysian . . . . . 8 . . . 214
Washington . . . . . 3 . . . 80
Kasota . . . . . 10 . . . 316
Cleveland, consolidated . . . . . 1 . . . 241
Total . . . . . 98 . . . 3,824