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The Hunt for One Room Country Schoolhouses

Chapter 3 continued...

Old Red Schoolhouse

The next day we found the Old Red Schoolhouse on the Polk County Fairgrounds where we had arranged to meet Vickie Engel who is the teacher for the K-2 Enrichment Summer School Program. She and her class of 17 children, all in the 6-year-old range, spend about 45 minutes each day at the old school after a ten-minute walk from their base at the Middle School.

The school building was sided with red, metal, brick-like material which needed some attention. Inside was a collection of double and single desks and a teacher desk. There was no stove or crockery water "bubbler" -- those items had been removed to the museum in town, unfortunately. There was little in the way of pictures or other historical material in evidence. The building had been moved from New Farmington.

The short session with the children included a pledge of allegiance to the flag, roll call where the children answered to their names with either a curtsy by the girls or a bow by the boys. The children had a few slates and chalk for writing, sang a few songs, drew pictures or did other design work with pegboards and pegs. We took pictures of the children and then asked them to gather outside for a school picture with their teacher. Vickie gave both of us handouts which she provides the parents. She said that the session culminates with a "Recitation Day" where each child recites and earns a certificate of merit. It was obvious that Vickie really enjoys her time in "Old Red".

 Little Red School

In response to a request for information about a school in Ladysmith which was on our way home, we learned that that school is open only by appointment. We stopped at what appeared to be a train depot and was labeled Tourist Information and took a chance that we might find it open. It wasn't. But the tourist info lady called Jan Platteter who is the coordinator (a volunteer position) of the museum, said she was on her way over to learn the new security system being installed and she would be glad to show us the school. It is located on the Rusk County Fairgrounds and was the first building to be moved there as part of the museum complex.

The school is an excellent condition; you can tell right off somebody really cares about the place. After talking with Jan for an hour or two, it is obvious she has a strong interest in the entire museum. The school is one of ten buildings which must be one of the best kept little museums in the state, with exhibits of the lumbering/logging, farming, a country store, and what a brochure describes as the ultimate off-road vehicle: a 56 ton M603A NATO tank which can move at 30 MPH. On top of all that, there is no admission fee.

Next to the school which is handicapped accessible, as are all the buildings, is a teacher cabin, a two-room, frame house which was part of the teacher's remuneration.

 Jan told us something of the history of the county, how it was Gates County at one time and why it was changed to Rusk, and where Ladysmith got its name (she was a teacher herself and knows how to impart information).

We left that beautiful area the next day and on the way home in Wabeno came across a school with a large flag labeled "OPEN". However, though the door was open and we could look inside at the conventional rural school set up, the grillwork inside the door prevented entry. Maybe that metal work is unlocked at special times but we were invited to dinner down the road a couple hundred miles so we just looked and left. The school building was in good repair and was part of a small park that displayed a huge log -- must have been six feet in diameter. The library building, a log structure on the grounds, looked inviting but dinner waited down the line.

But Jerry Apps led us to one more school before that dinner, a school building located in Pinecrest Historical Village just west of Manitowoc, Exit 52. It is a 60-acre outdoor museum of local history and the school is part of 27 buildings moved and restored there on farmland donated by three local families. The school building was in great shape and was, in fact, being painted. The site is peaceful and lovely. All the buildings were open and we just walked in and out of log cabins with their dishes and furnishings, the school house with its George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and photos of past classes of pupils, the beautiful little church that hosts weddings and family gatherings still, and finally, in a sudden downpour, we sought refuge in the saloon to wait out the storm. When it abated somewhat, we left but did not have time to wander through the rest of the exhibits, mostly farm buildings, machinery and a train exhibit -- a locomotive, flat car, tender and caboose. We especially wanted to see the last building, a Greek-Revival home built in 1870, but it will not be open until its restoration is finished.

There is a small fee to tour the museum but it is well worth the price of a ticket to be able to wander in the past on a beautiful summer day. There are more schools waiting to be seen and in fact, we know of two that hold classes for local area students who take field trips to the schools to have a peek back into their grandparent's, and great-grandparent's, lives. When fall comes and school is in session again, we will be there with those kids.

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