IAGenWeb Project

Shelby County


Washington Township #7, Panama, Iowa

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The Panama One Room School Museum, first known as Washington No. 7, was located in Washington Township of Shelby County about two miles southeast of Panama, Iowa.

The original school building, which was constructed in 1879, was destroyed by a tornado in the summer of 1925. A new building was constructed, and it opened for classes in the fall of 1926. The Shelby County Country School system discontinued using the school in 1959.

In 1960, the building was purchased by a resident of Panama, Iowa, and was moved to its current location in the town of Panama. In 1962 it was used by St. Mary's Catholic School for a 5th grade classroom. St. Mary's continued to use the building for a classroom for several years.

In the mid 1960's the building then became the property of the Harlan Community School District and was used for kindergarten classes. From the mid 1990's until about 2002, the school was used for remedial reading classes for elementary school students.

In 2004, because the school was not being used and it had sustained water damage from burst pipes, the community discussed donating the school to the volunteer fire department to be burned for fire fighting practice. Then, in 2005, three people who had graduated from the old Washington #7 became charter members of a group called the Friends of Washington Township # 7. This group was created to study the feasibility of restoring the structure to be used as a museum, thus preserving the learning experience of a one-room school for today's children.

Thirteen gallons of patching plaster and thousands of volunteer-hours later, the schoolhouse museum was opened in 2009, just in time for the celebration of Panama's 125th birthday. Hundreds of people, many of them former students and teachers of the school, toured the facilities during the celebration.

Most of the items in the museum were originally used in country schools and were donated by various people. Those items truly reflect the 1920's era. A pot-bellied stove, dated from about 1865 came from and was used in the Roundy School. That was one of the first country schools in the county, located in the northwest part of Shelby County.

Some items, such as doors, blackboards, and moldings, which were in need of replacement, were procured from other country schoolhouses that were being or had been demolished. The original red cedar floors were sanded and polished. A replacement flagpole was even fashioned from a wooden tongue taken from a horse-drawn hay rake. All work was done by volunteers.

Since 2009, teachers from surrounding schools have brought many elementary grade school children to Panama to visit the museum to learn how Iowa educated previous generations of its children. Students and other visitors learn something about the history of the Shelby County Country Schools, and that Washington No 7 Museum is the only standing school museum in Shelby County serving as a reminder of Iowa's rich educational heritage.

Washington Twp. #7 Class of 1940 School Picnic, Panama, Iowa

Click photo to enlarge

Back row: Unknown preschooler, Richard Muell, Irene Reinig, Helen Reinig, Alice Reinig, Arlene Muell. Front row: Kathleen Stephany, Ed Reinig, Clarence Reinig, Connie Stephany, Mildred Muell, Elmer Muell.


History and photos contributed by Ray Buman, Ed and Betty Reinig, August, 2013