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THE EARLY school work of the county has been alluded to before and now deserves a more extended notice. The four places in the county where the first public schools were established and maintained at near the same time were Spirit Lake, Center Grove, Okoboji and Tusculum. The private school maintained by Doctor Prescott and taught by Mrs. A. L. Buckland (then Miss Amanda Smith) for about a year and a half has already been mentioned. There were practically no public funds for the support of the schools of the county until about 1864, and but little then. It may seem strange to some that this county did not have public funds as early as the adjoining counties of Clay and O'Brien. The reason is this: In Clay and O'Brien Counties the greater part of their land had been proclaimed for sale previous to the panic of 1857 and was entered up by speculators and nonresidents, and was held by them at the time of the first settlement of those counties, and of course one of the first duties of the patriotic settler was to see that the non-resident "land shark" paid his proper proportion of taxes, and especially of school, road and bridge taxes. His second duty was to see that the proceeds arising from these taxes were properly expended.


The late Judge A. W. Hubbard of Sioux City used to tell a story of his own experience that illustrates this point better than any amount of explanation would. He owned quite a tract of wild land in one of the counties between here and Sioux City, and he said that he always noticed from his tax receipts that he was all, of the time paying a good round school tax. Having business in that vicinity at one time, he thought he would drive out and see his land and see what sort of a neighborhood it was in. Accordingly he employed a man who knew the country to drive out with him and made the trip, and found somewhat to his surprise that there was but one man living in the school district in which his land was located. He found a commodious, well furnished schoolhouse, with all of the fixtures and appurtenances for maintaining a first-class school, while the lone settler and a hired man were the full board of directors. His wife was treasurer and his oldest daughter secretary, both on good salaries. His wife was also teacher and his children were the only ones of school age for wiles around.


The Judge took in the situation at a glance and was highly amused by it, and driving up to the settler's log cabin, entered into conversation with him. After talking awhile about the country and the prospects of its settlement and growth, the Judge made some inquiries regarding their school and finally remarked that he couldn't see why it would not be a good idea for the settler to move right into the schoolhouse and live there. His cabin was small and uncomfortable, while the schoolhouse was large and commodious, and then as there were no other children, there would be no one to complain. The settler answered that he had been thinking a great deal about it of late, and he believed he would. And sure enough when winter came on it found the family comfortably fixed in the new schoolhouse, while the "teachers' fund" and the "contingent fund" contributed liberally to their support.


But that was not in this county, so the above incident is not a part of this county's history for the very good reason, if for no other, that the land in this county was not brought into market until after the panic, and consequently was not sold and so could not be taxed until years after the first settlement. It is more than probable that some incidents very much like it may have occurred about the close of the grasshopper period, but if so, who will say they were not justifiable?


But to return to the question of the early schools. As has been already stated, Miss Mary Howe taught the first school in Spirit Lake, but this was a private affair, and was paid for by the patrons in proportion to the attendance. As near as can be ascertained, the first school in Spirit Lake which was paid for in whole or in part by the public school fund was taught by Rev. William Leggett, a Baptist preacher, during the winter of 1863 and 1864. There was no schoolhouse in the town at that time, and up to 1866 they depended on hiring for school purposes any room that happened to be vacant.


It will be remembered that during the Indian troubles, and until the summer of 1865, the courthouse was used as military headquarters and was occupied by troops. After its evacuation the lower story was divided into offices and the main room of the upper story was used for nearly every imaginable purpose. The school directors made an arrangement with the Board of Supervisors to use it among the rest for school purposes. It was used in this way for two or three years without other furniture than such benches, chairs and tables as were contributed by the patrons for the convenience of the pupils, when the directors seated it with modern school furniture, and for those days it made quite a commodious school room. The first term taught after the school was moved into the courthouse was by Miss Myra Smith in the summer of 1866.


After the burning of the courthouse the district erected a building south of the Crandall House, the upper story of which was used as a Masonic lodge room and the lower one as a school room. This arrangement remained in force until the school had increased in size so as to require the use of both rooms when the building was moved to the site of the present schoolhouse, which had been previously donated to the district by Mr. Barkman for schoolhouse purposes. The first teacher in this schoolhouse was W. F. Pillsbury. The last ones, there being two departments at the time, were H. I. Wasson for the advanced grade and Mrs. Albert Arthur for the primary. This old building was used for schoolhouse purposes for about ten years, or until 1882, when it was torn down to make room for the present modern structure.


The first real schoolhouse in the county, built as such and never used for anything else, was the old log schoolhouse at Center Grove. While there was no money in the treasury and hardly any taxable property in the district, there were a liberal number of sturdy girls and boys very much in need of school privileges and school training, thus rendering some kind of a school building an imperative necessity. The first move towards securing one was made in the spring or summer of 1863. The first movers in the scheme were Philip Doughty, Samuel Rogers, Ludwig Lewis, C. H. Evans, W. B. Brown and M. J. Smith. It was built entirely by private donations, some furnishing logs, others lumber, and still others shingles. The windows were donated by Prescott. After the material was hauled together a "bee" was made, the body of the house rolled up, the roof put on, the windows put in and the floor laid, when it was ready for occupancy.


In size it was about fourteen by twenty and about seven feet high. Rude benches served for seats, while a board fastened to the wall back of the seats did duty for desks. A rude table nailed together of rough boards completed the furniture. After a few years this primitive furniture was removed and modern school furniture set up in its place. But it is an open question which gave the most genuine satisfaction. This unique school building was situated at the base and on the east side of the high mound at the southwestern extremity of Center Grove. It was erected in 1863 and used for school purposes twelve years, or until the summer of 1875. There is a little uncertainty as to who taught the first school in this structure. The first winter school here was taught by Miss Myra Smith during the winter of 1863 and 1864. There is no disagreement about this, but it is uncertain whether the first summer school was the summer before or the one after this.


In addition to the pupils residing in the district there were several non-residents who attended school that winter for the first time after coming to the frontier. Among these were Miss Emma Blake, T. J. Francis, Albert Arthur and some others. The attendance that winter was fully up to the average of our best country schools of the present time, and far .ahead of many of them. It was astonishing the number of children that little log cabin was made to accommodate. As before stated the first summer school was taught by Miss Julia Bennett, but whether it was before or after the winter school above described cannot now be determined. Other early teachers were G. Fairchild, Misses Ardella and Arletta Waugh, C. H. Rogers, A. C. Justice and George Hilbert. George Hilbert was the last teacher in the old log schoolhouse, the last term being for the winter of 1874 and 1875. The district was organized as an independent district under the law of 1872 authorizing rural independent districts. The law was repealed at the next session of the legislature and this was the only district in the county organized under it. The old schoolhouse was sold, and torn down in 1875 and a larger and more commodious one erected. The first teacher in the new schoolhouse was A. C. Justice.


As has been before stated, the first public school in the county was taught by Miss Myra Smith in the Okoboji district. This school was taught in the original Harvey Luce cabin. During the summer of 1864 the school was held in Prescott's barn and was taught by Miss Esther Pillsbury. Prescott had just built a new frame barn and during the summer it was used for school, church and Sabbath school purposes, as well as for those for which it was originally intended. The next winter the school was taught by Miss Syrena Pillsbury in an addition to the old "log cabin" then owned and occupied by Rev. S. Pillsbury. About this time Prescott donated to the district a frame building, sixteen by twenty feet in size, on condition that they would move it to a proper site and finish it off as a school-house. They made a bee and moved the building, but before getting it to the proposed site an accident occurred which prevented their completing their work at that time, and they left it intending to finish it later on. About this time Prescott's dwelling house was destroyed by fire, so he moved his family into the building he had intended to donate to the district for a schoolhouse.


During the summer of 1865 it was decided to erect a building by subscription and this plan was substantially carried out, each one donating such materials as he had and all donating their labor, thus obtaining a very respectable building. It was of native lumber, twenty by thirty feet in size, and ten feet high. The walls were at first bricked up instead of being lathed and plastered. As near as can be determined, the first school in the schoolhouse was taught by Miss Syrena Pillsbury, succeeded by M. J. Smith. After that some of the old time teachers were Mrs. A. L. Buckland, W. F. Pillsbury, Miss Anna Fairchild and several others whose names are forgotten.


As was customary in the early days, the building was utilized for school, church, Sabbath school, dancing parties and everything else that such a building could be used for. It was afterwards finished off in better shape and furnished with modern furniture, and ranked among the better class of schoolhouses in the county.


The pioneer school in the Tusculum district was in the old Thatcher cabin. It will be remembered that Thatcher was one of the settlers previous to the massacre, and that his wife was one of the women taken prisoner by the Indians, and that he was away from home, after provisions at the time of the massacre, and therefore escaped the fate that overtook his neighbors. He sold his claim to Prescott, who in turn sold it to H. D. Arthur, and the place has been known as the Arthur place since that time. The first school was taught by Miss Theresa Ridley of Estherville. She was succeeded by Christopher Rasmussen, of the same place. Other early teachers were Burgess Jones, Miss Nellie Arthur and perhaps one or two others.


The old cabin was used as a schoolhouse until 1870, when a more commodious building was erected. These four early schools form a quartet, around which a great many pleasant recollections gather. While everything was rough, crude, irregular and unconventional, there was a heartiness, genuineness and earnestness of purpose in these early efforts that it is pleasant to recall and not unprofitable to contemplate.


It was about the year 1870 that settlers began to scatter out on the prairies away from the lakes and groves, and the settlements continued quite rapid until the public land was exhausted, and the schools multiplied in proportion. The Lakeville district was the pioneer in this respect. During the summer of 1869 the settlers there erected a schoolhouse which was then considered quite an affair. It was the largest in the county at that time and for many years later. The first school taught there was by Mrs. Esther Carleton, who taught several terms in succession. The house was utilized for school, meetings and all kinds of public gatherings, and all of the old settlers in that locality recall with much pleasure the really enjoyable occasions connected with those pioneer days. From this time forward schools multiplied, school districts were organized and the school work was systematized along more modern lines.


Prominent among the instrumentalities that tended to foster and stimulate the interest in educational matters in that early day, was the Dickinson County Teachers' Association, and a few words in regard to its history will not be out of place here. This organization had many unique and original features which would hardly find place in a teachers' association at the present time, but it was a pronounced success all the same. It was a movable affair, and the meetings were held in the schoolhouses in the different parts of the county, which were always crowded to their utmost capacity. A two days' session was the rule, and the interest never flagged, but was kept on the increase to the close. The Association was organized in November, 1873, at which time was held the first Teachers' Institute in this county. This Institute was held .and conducted by Prof. James L. Enos, of Cedar Rapids, and although at the time it was not counted a phenomenal success, yet it was the first move in a series of events that afterward became of great benefit to the educational interests of the county. The Association was organized with Mrs. A. L. Buckland as president and R. B. Nicol, secretary, who were assisted by an able executive committee whose names have not been preserved.


For several years the Association held its meetings quarterly. It took the management of the Teachers' Institute into its own hands, in which it was very successful. These institutes became very popular at once, each one outdoing its predecessor in the extent of attendance and the amount of interest and enthusiasm manifested by all concerned. A. W. Osborn was county superintendent at that tine, and he was succeeded in that office by Dr. H. C. Crary.


For several years the Institutes were managed entirely h, home talent, and it was fairy demonstrated that at that early day we had those among us who were fully as competent to manage affairs of this kind as could have been secured by sending away and engaging professionals at a much greater expense. Those most prominent in this work were: A. W. Osborn and wife, Dr. H. C. Crary and wife, Mrs. A. L. Buckland, W. F. Pillsbury, R. B. Nicol and Rev. J. R. Upton. For the first two or three sessions they received no compensation whatever, and yet it is very much of a question whether better institute work was over done in any county in north-western Iowa. Certainly the interest and enthusiasm was far ahead of that manifested in late days.


After the first few years the original promoters dropped out one by one and the Institutes were conducted on the plan in vogue in other localities. The first non-resident conductor employed was Prof. J. Wernli, of Le Mars, and right here again is shown the tendency in those early times to look for strong men. As an institute conductor Prof. Wernli never had a superior in the state of Iowa, and has not today. The organization of the Association was kept up some six or eight years, when the changing conditions of society made more modern methods seem more in harmony with the public needs. Other associations have been organized and their efforts attended with a good degree of success, but it will not be possible to give their history in detail.