The design of the state quarters from Iowa says it all. You’ll notice a one-room schoolhouse with a teacher and students planting a tree. The inscription reads “Foundation in Education.”
“Iowans have had a commitment to education since the state’s earliest days,” reads the coin section of the United States Mint Web site, www.usmint.gov. “When Iowa became a state in 1846, it already had a number of rural country schools in each of its counties.”
Forty-four of those early halls of education still exist in Scott County. Twenty-six have been converted to homes, four are maintained as museums, three are township halls or community centers, four are used as farm buildings, three are vacant, two were converted to churches (Calvary Bible Church and Victory Baptist Church), one is an office building and the remaining one is used by LULAC Club.
Many more have been razed to make room for consolidated schools or industrial endeavors.
Researching the history of the schools isn’t easy, either. Fortunately, Davenport is home to a former student, teacher and historian on one-room schoolhouses — Bob McCue.
“I’ve always been interested in history,” said McCue, curator of the school museum located in the basement of the Davenport School District building at 1606 Brady St.
McCue attended a one-room schoolhouse in northeast Iowa, which is where he began his teaching career. He taught in a rural school for seven years before he “went into town.” He and other retired Davenport School District teachers began the school museum.
Rules for teachers were much different in that period. McCue said teachers’ job descriptions included serving as the building janitor as well.
Rules from 1872 posted in Old School House #9 included:
n Teachers every day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
n Women who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
Children got to the early schools in a number of different ways. Many walked, some rode horses and oftentimes a horse pulled a wagon or sled full of children.
Once at school, the children would be called in to their lessons by the teacher ringing a bell or waving a flag.
“Quite often in the classrooms, the teacher would start with a prayer,” McCue said. “It was almost required.”
Lunch pails (tin buckets) and baskets were put in cloak rooms, if the school had one, along with coats. In the winter, gloves were laid out around the pot-bellied stove that was used to heat most of the rural schools.
McCue told the story of an accident in his younger years. As was typical, he left the fire on overnight to heat the building. Unfortunately, it set the building on fire.
“I’ve been fired,” McCue joked.
One schoolhouse looked almost exactly the same as another. Most had portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on the walls. The schoolmaster’s desk faced the students. Beside it was a recitation bench. Behind it was a blackboard and probably an early map of the still-developing country. Oftentimes, boys sat on one side, and girls sat on the other. If a student was moved to the opposite site of the room, he or she was usually in trouble.
“Unless you went to the schools, you’re not going to know their idiosyncrasies,” said Karen Anderson, executive director of Scott County Historic Preservation Society.
Finding the old structures can be difficult as well, unless you know where to look. As Anderson pointed out, many are mistaken for old churches because of the towers containing their bells. Many early schools were taught in homes.
By the 1960s, one-room schools were fading fast.
According to a March 21, 1963, article from the Times-Democrat, the existence of 28 schools was in jeopardy. They served only 1,050 students in the county, and many were only one-room, serving a single grade. Plans were in the works for a centralized elementary school.
The schools were “becoming an increasing problem for the officials of the school board. Most of them are getting to the place where maintenance is a big factor,” according to the article.
Gilruth District #4 was built in 1871 at 53rd and Marquette streets by a wrestling, axe-throwing Methodist preacher named Rev. James Gilruth. In its early days, boys sat on one side of the room and girls on the other, as was customary of one-room schoolhouse settings. It was considered a punishment to have to go sit on the other site of the classroom.
The school closed in 1960. For preservation purposes, the families of Roger Jepsen, John Platt and T.H. Deevers purchased the building in 1969. In 1971, the Kimberly Village Christian Reformed Church refurbished the school to be used as a preschool.
In 1977, Gilruth District #4 was put on National Register of Historic Places, but it was demolished in 1991 after its current owner could not find a buyer for it.
A hand-written poem by Josephine Shaw is preserved in protective casing at Old School House. The poem, titled “Goodbye to the one room, country school,” sums up feelings about the demise of these historical landmarks. The first verses read:
“Goodbye to the one room country school
That stands alone
The grass uncut
And the weeds high have grown
The windows are boarded
The doors are locked for good
They are being sold
These schoolhouses made of wood.”
a look at the schoolhouses
Butler #2 is more commonly known as Walnut Grove School Museum and is located at the Dan Nagle Walnut Grove Pioneer Village in Long Grove, Iowa.
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The first school, named Walnut Grove for the surrounding settlement, was built in the early 1800s. The existing school was built in the 1870s. It was used through 1965 as a classroom. Five desks are still from the original school. Other authentic items — including a stove, map case, globe and other items — are on loan or have been donated.
For more information, call Scott County Conservation at (563) 285-9903. Hours of operation for the village are 8 a.m. until sundown, April through October.
Fire destroyed this century-old school in 1975, just a year before it was to be used in the bicentennial celebration of Scott County. A replica now stands in its place.
Butler #3 is located near McCausland, Iowa, on the William “Buffalo Bill” Cody homestead. For more information, call (563) 225-2981.
Old Pleasant Hill School
Leona Mohr began her teaching career at a one-room schoolhouse in 1938 in Clayton County. Thirty-four years later, “I decided I would quit the same way that I started — in a rural one-room school,” Mohr said to a Quad-City Times reporter in 1983.
She took her Bridgeview Elementary School class to Old Pleasant Hill School in honor of her retirement. The students wore period clothing and brought their lunches in tin cans or baskets. Mohr even called the students into the school to begin their lessons by waving a rag. The practice was customary for schoolteachers who did not have a bell in their building. According to Anderson, they have been known as “Shake-A-Rag” schools.
Old Pleasant school can be found past LeClaire by following U.S. 67 north, then heading west on Territorial Road (County Road F51).
Old School House #9
Old School House #9, or “the old Brady Street School,” once was found south of 53rd and Brady streets. On May 3, 1972, Davenport Mayor Kathryn Kirschbaum broke ground at the school’s new home. Since then, it has resided on the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds on West Locust Street.
“We have a lot of traffic through here (during the fair),” fair operations manager Vicky Speth said.
Last year, Speth said a man living in Pennsylvania came to the fair to visit his old alma mater. Last April, a couple who met on the fairgrounds was married in it. The building is mainly used to display past fair paraphernalia.
Gottried Haur built the school. Haur, a native of Württemberg, Germany, immigrated to the United States in 1856. He was living in Gilbert Town, now Bettendorf, in 1877 when he built the school. It still contains the original bell, some desks and the cloakroom.
“We try to keep it up as best as we can,” Speth said. Last year, it was re-sided and the porch was fixed.
For more information, call (563) 326-5338. The school is open to the public during the fair from noon to 9 p.m.
Stone School, built in 1866, was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is located one mile west of LeClaire. Land for the school was given by a prominent family of the time, who had a strong interest in education. It closed in 1955.
Mrs. Herbert Lage, Davenport, did much of the research that put it on the register.
“When I went to school there in 1910, it had a big pot-bellied stove and a boys’ entry way on the south side and a girls’ entry way on the north side,” she said in an article in the Jan. 6, 1978, editions of the Quad-City Times.