Rural School # 2, Kittson County, Minnesota

by

Janet Clow

It was only a little building on an acre of land but thelittle country schoolhouse is cherished in the memory of those who attendedit, not only as a milestone in the education of the children of the RedRiver Valley but as a place of childhood excitement and fun.

School District No. 2 was organized in 1880. This districtwas in the northwestern corner of Kittson County, Minnesota. Its northboundary was the Canadian border; the west boundary was the Red River. It extended south along the Red River six miles, east from the river fourmiles. A schoolhouse was built in St. Vincent which is two miles southof the Canadian border and on the banks of the Red River. This was notthe center of District No. 2, therefore it made it very difficult for thechildren from the south and southeast to get to school, as most of themhad to walk, which made it especially hard in the winter. The people ofthe area realized that if their children were to get an education they wouldhave to build a rural school near them. So, in 1893, an acre of land onemile east and two miles south of St. Vincent was purchased. This was onthe southwest corner of the old Jefferson Highway as it turned east towardHumboldt.

A frame schoolhouse was built. It was covered with shiplapand painted white. The inside was boarded and painted a dull gray. Threewindows were built into the north wall and three into the south wall. Thedoor was built in the middle of the east wall. Hooks were put up alongthe east wall on each side of the door for coats and caps; underneath wasa place for overshoes and lunch pails. The floor was made of slivery fir. A large barrel type stove with a heavy tin jacket around it was installedin the northwest corner. There were buckets of coal placed near it. Theteacher's desk was in the front of the room. A pail of drinking water wasplaced on the table beside the teacher's desk. The pupils' double sideddesks (two pupils to a desk) were in the middle of the room. These desksand the books they had were discards from the St. Vincent town school.

The other school buildings consisted of a slant roof coalshed ten feet west of the school, with the outdoor toilets behind it. Anotherthirty feet northwest of these was the horse barn.

The school lot was an acre of land, bounded on the northand east by roads, and on the south and west by a field. It had a sloughrunning across the southwest corner and along the west side. Wild sweetgrass with many wild flowers such as gentians, tiger lilies, and purpleviolets, made up the school turf.

Later as the school requiremelts became stricter, DistrictNo. 2 repaired and enlarged their rural schoolhouse. The west end of theschoolhouse was extended fourteen feet. Four more windows were added twoon the north and two on the south, making five windows on each side. Anentry with a coal bin on the north and a window in the south was built onthe east. A new chimney was built north of the entry way. The stove wasmoved from the northeast corner to the northwest corner nearer the door,which improved the heat circulation greatly. Bookshelves and cupboardswere built in the northwest corner and along the north wall to the window. The walls inside the schoolhouse were covered with a plaster board andpainted a light buff. Maps in a wooden case were put on the west wall southof the teacher's desk. Blackboards were put on the west wall between themap case and the bookshelves. Kerosene lamps with reflectors were put onthe wall between the windows. As the state now required drinking fountains,a large crock on a stand with a push button on a spigot was purchased andset in the back of the room against the south wall. New desks to fit eachchild were purchased and the old double desks discarded. New up-to-datebooks were bought.

About 1930, the old barn burned down and a new barn wasbuilt west of the school with a coal shed and a girl's toilet on the northand a boy's toilet on the south. An open entry way was built in front ofeach toilet for more privacy and protection from the wind and the snow.

Swings and tetter-totters were installed in the yard eastof the school.

Depression years followed so no more improvements weremade except for minor repairs.

The details of this schoolhouse and playground may seemunimportant as it could have been any building or yard, and yet, they areimportant because they are interwoven into the lives of both the childrenand their teachers. Not every school had a slough behind it or a largebarrel type stove with a jacket around it. This slough and stove playeda big part in the pleasure and trouble of those who attended Rural SchoolDistrict No. 2.

The parents of the children that attended this school werefarmers. Many people had heard of the rich soil of the Red River Valley. Some came and bought land here. Most of the "new" farmers wereyoung and had large families. They were hard workers and had a keen andproud interest in their school. Many served on the school board at onetime or another.

The children had to get up early to help with the choresbefore walking to school. Some had to walk almost three miles. Only onthe very coldest days in winter did they ride to school. They either rodehorseback or in an open cutter or on a stone boat pulled by a team of horses.

In the spring, when the snow melted and ran into the ditchesand sloughs and then froze over, the children skated to school. Those fromthe north and the south could skate for almost two miles to school on thebig slough that ran back of the school.

Later in the spring, when it rained, it was often difficultto get to school because the dirt roads didn't have any gravel on them.No other place in the world has mud like in the Red River Valley. Whenthe dirt first gets wet, it is very slippery. If it rains a lot, the watersoaks in and anyone traveling on it just sinks in and gets stuck. Oftenthe children had to take off their shoes and walk home frome school barefootin the mud.

Due to the difficulty of traveling on these roads in wetweather the teacher boarded at the nearest farm house. She too had to walkto school. She had to get to school early because she was often the janitoras well as the teacher.

Minnesota's educational system has always been progressiveand has had high standards. The rural schools were not behind the townschools in either facilities or curricula. Each school had a course ofstudy, provided by the state. This gave the requirements for all subjectsin every grade. It also helped the teacher meet the state standards. Pupilsof the one room school learned their lessons well. If anyone missed somefacts in a grade, he would surely get it sooner or later listening to allthe classes from grade one to grade eight. Repetition helped to fix factsin his mind. Before a pupil could graduate from the eighth grade in Minnesota,he had to pass a State Board Examination in each subject. Very few pupilsfrom Rural School District No. 2 failed to pass these examinations.

The class all the children looked forward to was the Artand workshop class. It was held only one hour on Friday afternoon. Thechildren could choose what they wanted to do such as drawing, painting,sewing and any other educational and constructive work. A small amountof money was allowed by the school for material. One year they bought somebasket weaving material. Many beautiful knitting, sewing, and waste basketswere made. Other small articles were made from the reeds and smaller woodenbottoms such as pencil holders and an assortment of trays. Many pictureswere drawn, painted and framed. The most interesting of these were theones the children painted on the glass, putting the painted side to theinside and next to it, tinfoil, and then the cardboard on the back. Thetinfoil caught the light and reflected it onto the picture on the glass. The only material they had for framing the pictures was some adhesive backedcolored paper, but even this was quite attractive. During the depression,all the children wanted to build small wooden things for the home as therewasn't money to buy them. The families couldn't afford to buy the lumber,but as most of the farmers bought apples by the bushel in large wooden boxes,the children brought these boxes to school. The teacher asked many of thestorekeepers to save all the wooden crates the oranges came in, and shebrought these to school. Many beautiful and useful things were built. The magazine racks, corner shelves, plant stands, bookends, and tool boxesbuilt from the wooden boxes and orange crates along with all the many otherthings that were made in the Art and Work shop class at Rural School DistrictNo. 2 won many first prizes and blue ribbons at the St. Vincent and theKittaon County fairs.

TEACHERS OF RURAL DISTRICT NO. 2

1893-1894 First year in operation

1894-1899 Records not available

1900-1901 Nettie Van Solan

1901-1902 Records not available

1902-1903 Minnie Anderson

1903-1904 Records not available

1905-1906 Mary Moore

1907-1910 Records not available

1910-1911 Mary Ryan

1911-1912 Eva Hutchins

1912-1913 Sadie Ryan

1913-1914 Selam Storien

1914-1915 Selam Storien

1915-1916 Alice Griffith

1916-1917 Grace Moran

1917-1918 Gordon Edkens

1918-1919 Lillian Lorentzen

1919-1920 Annie Fertig

1920-1921 Lena Walen

1921-1922 Mildred Dresser

1922-1923 Mildred Dresser

1923-1924 Elsie Johnson

1924-1925 Sadie Allen

1925-1926 Gladys Pattison

1926-1927 Ester Erickson

1927-1928 Ester Erickson

1928-1929 Mary Scot

1929-1930 Mary Scot

1930-1931 Mary Scot

1931-1932 Pauline Clow

1932-1933 Pauline Clow

1933-1934 Pauline Clow

1934-1935 Pauline Clow

1935-1936 Mildred Monroe

 

The teachers that taught at this school were some of thebest. They were not only well educated, but also hard workers. Even thoughthey were overworked, it didn't seem to dampen their spirits as they weregenerally cheerful and happy. These teachers not only looked after theirpupils' education but also their physical well being. They had to handlemany emergencies. Many times the children got hurt playing in the schoolyard. One morning a girl came to school with both her hands and all herfingers frostbitten, These were some of the times the teacher had to actas doctor and nurse.

Many times the older boys played practical jokes on theirteacher. One noon hour all the older boys caught mice and brought theminto the school in their gloves. They laid their gloves underneath theirdesks when they sat down. The first class had just begun when out crepta mouse, and then one after another the mice came out of the boys' gloves. The next thing the children knew, their teacher was on top of her desk;but even from that position she had authority and soon all the mice werecaught and put back outside. The children were again amused when duringone noon hour an older girl put some red pepper on top of the stove. Itwasn't long before the heat from the stove created an odor that penetratedthe air and stung the eyes. School was dismissed in a hurry that afternoonand remained closed the following day. It took all the next day with thedoor wide open to get the smell out.

In the winter and spring, the children spent much of theirnoon hour skating on the slough behind the school. The slough passed througha culvert under the road as it came onto the schoolground from the southeastand passed through another culvert as it continued northwest. The ice wasn'tfrozen very thick in or near these culverts. The teacher often warned thechildren not to go near them and the children generally obeyed. One dayas they were playing tag on the ice, they didn't realize they were so closeto the culvert and one of the older boys went skating away so he wouldn'tget caught. He went crashing through the thin ice, and up to his neck intothe icy water. The slough was deep but not so wide here. He climbed outin a hurry and ran into the schoolhouse. The teacher helped him take offhis shoes and his outer clothing and sent him into the corner behind thestove and told him to remove all the rest of his clothes except his underwear. All these clothes were hung up or put under the stove jacket to dry. Classescontinued but were disrupted somewhat because even though the boy was hiddenfrom their view, the children couldn't keep from giggling and peering backat that corner.

In the spring when the ice began to melt and they couldn'tskate anymore, the children would run across the shallow part of the sloughuntil it started to crack and get rubbery. Then one by one they ran acrossit and each time it cracked a little more. Even when it didn't seem safeanymore, one of them would say "Just one more time" and that usuallywas all because they'd break through and go into the water. This was justthe beginning of wet feet. For the next few weeks there was always someonesitting by the stove with his feet under the stove jacket for a couple ofhours in the afternoon. Later on when the ice was all melted and the sloughwas full of water, the older boys floated on rafts they had made, pushingend guiding themselves with long sticks. The younger children often threwsticks into the fast flowing slough waters and pretended they were boats. They would run along the edge of the slough following their "boats"as far as the culvert. The first boat to go into the culvert won the race. Those activities also ended up with some of the children getting wet feet. Perhaps the big barrel type stove with the jacket around it was installedin this school because of the slough behind it!

Rural School District No. 2 served as a place for manysocial and religious gatherings. There were few churches in northwesternMinnesota in the early days. As ministers traveled through, they were welcometo use the school and many held services there.

One of the main social events was the annual basket social. The young ladies of the area brought a lunch for two which they had packedin a box or basket. The container was usually trimmed in fancy paper andtied with a ribbon. The young men would bid on it. The one that bid thehighest got the basket and ate lunch with the lady who made it. The mentried to get the teacher's basket so it usually went for a higher price. Sometimes they got fooled and the one that got it had to eat lunch withthe community's old maid. The money from the baskets was used to pay themusicians since a dance always followed.

There were also incidents of a different nature that happenedat Rural School District No. 2. One year a girl in her early twenties thatlived on a nearby farm was janitor of the school. One morning after sheunlocked the door and went in to start the fire, a man grabbed her. Shefought him, got away, and ran home. He had broken in the night before totake shelter from the storm and had spent the night there.

The school corner was also a meeting place for bootleggersand their customers. As Minnesota was a dry state at that time, men wouldbootleg liquor from Canada. One time some of the children found twentyquarts of whiskey back of the school in the tall grass by the slough. Theycalled the sheriff. He and his deputy came and picked it up, but beforethey got back to Hallock with it, they were both drunk.

The schoolhouse isn't on the corner anymore. The lastterm of school ended in May 1936. The schoolhouse stood empty until 1938when it was sold to the American Legion and moved to Lancaster to be usedas their hall. It is still being used by them today.

Most of the parents of the children that attended RuralSchool District No. 2 are deceased. One of their children either inheritedor bought their farm. Their grandehildron now live on these farms. Thesechildren are picked up at their door by the school bus that takesthem either to St. Vincent or to Humboldt. These school districtsconsolidated in 1955 and now are District No. 352. The kindergarten, second,third, and fourth grades attend the St. Vincent school. The rest of thegrades and the high school are taught at the Humboldt school.

High gravel roads cross at the corner where the schoolhouseused to be. The schoolground is again part of a field. The slough is stillthere, but because of the deep ditches and good drainage, there is verylittle water in it except in the spring before all the ice melts and thewater starts to flow towards the river.

It's just another crossroads to strangers passing by thecorner where the schoolhouse used to be, but to those who attended RuralSchool District No. 2, it's a very special corner. Many times as they passthis corner they will say to their children, "Did I ever tell you aboutthe time..." and they tell again the things that happened at the littleschoolhouse.

 

Bibliography

Ash, Vera Easter (Mrs.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Interview,January 1970.

Clow, Gladys Giffen (Mrs.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Interview,January 1970.

Clow, Roy (Mr.) Humboldt, Minnesota. Correspondence,February 1970.

Clow, Warren (Mr.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Correspondence,January 1970.

Giffen, Donald (Mr.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Correspondence,January 1970.

Johnston, Olive Clinton (Mrs.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Interview, January 1970.

Liebinger, Pauline Clow (Mrs.) Sumner, Oregon. Correspondence,January 1970.

Reese, Howard (Mr.) Humboldt, Minnesota. Correspondence,January 1970.

Seed, Mary Fleming (Mrs.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Correspondence,January 1970.
innesota. Interview, January 1970.

Liebinger, Pauline Clow (Mrs.) Sumner, Oregon. Correspondence,January 1970.

Reese, Howard (Mr.) Humboldt, Minnesota. Correspondence,January 1970.

Seed, Mary Fleming (Mrs.) St. Vincent, Minnesota. Correspondence,January 1970.