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The Hunt for One Room Country Schoolhouses, continued...


The following Wednesay, we got an early start having learned that most school museums are open from 1:00 - 4:00 and we had a distance to drive to Watertown to see the one-room school where the first kindergarten in the nation was established in 1856. Other places have been claimed as the first kindergarten but this school, established by a Mrs. Carl Schurz, has been proven to actually be the first one. From its original location in downtown Watertown, it was moved to the grounds of the historic Octagon House about a hundred years later.

(left) the kindergarten re-created...


(below, left) Historic plaque on the side of the Watertown kindergarten schoolhouse

The typical, one-room, country school is arranged with the teacher's desk at the front of the room, blackboards behind her with maps that pull down, a reciting bench, and rows of student desks in front of her. There is always a pot-bellied stove or furnace of some kind, a pail or crock of fresh water in one corner for drinking, and one or two bookcases along the wall.

In the cloakroom, there are hooks or pegs to hang coats and a shelf above to hold lunches often in battered, unpainted syrup pails. The kindergarten school was warm, pleasant, and colorful with toys and furniture more suited to young children. Whether this was true in 1856 as in 1999 leaves room for conjecture.

Mrs. Schurz began this school with her own three-year old daughter as one of the first pupils so maybe she made it as inviting as she could.

After leaving Watertown to look for a restored school near Lake Mills in the Aztalan State Park, we came upon a little, abandoned school building on a backroad in the township of Milford on County N. It was brick, with a wooden entry way, overgrown with shrubbery and weeds, and surrounded by large trees across the road from a large modern farm. We took pictures when what we really wanted to do was find a way into the building. However, being conscious of no trespassing laws (and maybe watchers on the farm), we went on our way.

Outside Lake Mills at the Aztalan Mueseum, we found the school building locked though our Jerry Apps, book indicated it would be open A few men busy at restoring a small church in the tiny town told us the opening times had changed and we were one day early. We planned to return.


The next school we tried was also not open. Clark School in Riverside Park, Berlin, Wisconsin. A beautiful setting, near a river with geese and ducks making good use of it. We will also return to that one. The schoolhouse in Ripon was open that Sunday, however. It is the birthplace of the Republican party and the docent was eager to give us the history. "It won't last long, just ten minutes". We were obviously more interested in the history of the school but listened to her talk which turned out to be worth the time. The issue of slavery was the root cause for the breakup of the two existing political parties into a third, the Republican party.

The school itself had been moved six times, often on rolling logs. There were only three furnishings that came from the original school, a large map of the United States as it was in 1854, part of the teacher's desk and part of the original slate blackboard. The rest of the blackboard had been cracked while the school was rolling along on logs to one of its destinations. The two-pupil desks were copies of originals, and the stove had come from the old railroad depot. It is interesting how some of the schools we visited seemed intact in the originality of their interiors and others had almost a motley assembly of artifacts.

Marion/Mom & Gail's mother and sister on the merry-go-round.

The docent told us that at some point in it's career, the school building had been used as a residence by a family named Peck. She said that the author of "Peck's Bad Boy" may have written the book in that very building.

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