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The Joe River Schoolhouse


Mark Ash


If you lived on a farm in the northwestern corner of Minnesotanear the Joe River about fifty years ago, you had a pretty good chance ofgetting your education at the Number 3 school, frequently called the JoeRiver Schoolhouse. If not, you were deprived of a wonderful experience. The following story will give you an idea of what you have missed. TheJoe River Schoolhouse has taken its place in the history of the Red RiverValley.

The actual location of the school was in the southwestcorner of Section 34 of Kittson County. Several people presently live fairlyclose to where it stood. These neighbors are the Willis Ward's and theRonald Cox's. But the school building is not there anymore, because itwas moved into Humboldt, Minnesota. It was moved into Humboldt to be usedat the school. They used it for an industrial arts room. After that itwas bought by Mr. Tri, who turned it into a Catholic Church. Its attendancethere are not so good, so it was bought by Mr. Masloski of Lancaster, whomoved it there. It now serves as nice home.

The school was organized on January 7, 1880 at the homeof George Ash, John Finney-director, and John B. Hutchins-clerk. It's veryhard to believe, but George Ash, the treasurer, could neither read or write! Without these qualities today, it would be impossible to be a school boardmember. Another startling fact is that in the almost seventy years of theJoe River School's existence, there has not been an absence of an Ash orFinney on the school board.

The first teacher of the school was D. C. McLeod. He taughta term for just one and a half months for fifty dollars. The next teacherwas Miss Jennie Ross, who taught for six months. Among the teachers whofollowed these two were Mr. William Ash, Mrs. Nelson Finney, Mrs. John Ash,Mrs. William Sylvester, Mrs. Dick Lapp, Sr., and Mrs. Lawrence Ward. Thereare just a few who taught at the Joe River Schoolhouse. Since there wasno attention paid to the border line, there were five early teachers whocame from Canada.

The schoolhouse that was built after the original spotat George Ash's was quite a bit more modern than the first. At cost oftotal of 530 dollars to build. Today, you could only buy the fuel to heatthe school with that much money. The interior was painted white, and itconsisted of fir floors. The one room school was first heated by wood stove,then a coal stove was installed. The school was for other things aroundthe community like Farmer's Club meetings and the Methodist Church.

If we turn back the fifty years, we could see exactly whatthe Number 3 school was like. We would see that students were taught whata normal child would need to know in those days. English, History, andGeography were taught, and of course, the three R's. When recess time came,the children were just as eager to get outside as the kids are now. Theywould play such familiar games, such as, "Pump-pump-pull-away,"baseball, and in the winter they would go skiing and skating.

Since there was not an abundance of automobiles, most childrenhad to either walk or ride in sleighs or buggies, or ride a horse. Whenthe students went to school every morning, they would carry their lunchin a gallon syrup pail, somewhat like a paint can. They did this becausethere was no hot meals as the school served today. The restroom facilitieswere what you might expect of an old school. There were two separate housesfor both boys and girls. One former student advises that you shouldn'twaste much time during winter.

There are similarities between the Number 3 school andthe present school however. One such similarity is the grading system. School systems today still use the A, B, C, D, F system as they did yearsago. The number system was used often in the Joe River School. Other practicesthat carried over the years were Christmas programs and the various vacationtimes. Thus, some of the Joe River Schoolhouse's old tradtions still liveon.

The Joe River Schoolhouse closed on January 1, 1950 becauseit consolidated with the Humboldt School District. There were several explanationsfor the closing of the school. One reason was the Joe River School neverhad a large attendance. There was an average of only 10 to 12 studentsfrom the first to eighth grades. Several other reasons helped to move theJoe River Schoolhouse students into Humboldt. For instance, Joe River hadno high school and Humboldt had a busing system which Joe River lacked. Consolidated into one school, the Humboldt and Joe River Schools have donevery well.

It was the institutions like the Joe River Schoolhousethat gave birth to the great knowledge and great ability of the people ofthe Red River Valley. The one room schoolhouse is indeed a part of theheritage of the Valley.


(1) Mr. and Mrs. William S., St. Vincent, Minnesota, Interview,December 30, 1973

Kittson County Enterprise, p. 49, J. E. Bouvette and Sons,September 11, 1935

(2) Ward, Mr. Roger, St. Vincent, Minnesota, Interview,January 8, 1974, January 17, 19

2) Ward, Mr. Roger, St. Vincent, Minnesota, Interview,January 8, 1974, January 17, 19