Preserving the history of one-room schools in Dallas County
Yellow school buses kicking up a cloud of dust on country roads, groups of young people with backpacks and bikes talking excitedly, the roar of football crowds on a quiet Friday night – all these are sure signs that school is back in session. These may bring up memories of your school experiences.
Education has been important in Iowa since 1830, even before it gained statehood in 1846! Early schools at that time did not resemble the massive buildings of today. Built by early settlers who valued education, they were little more than one-room log cabins, usually built on a one-acre lot on the corner of a field donated by the landowner. They are located approximately two miles apart, and are positioned so that no child has to walk far to get to school.
In his History of Perry, Eugene Hastie describes the typical schoolhouse as “usually about 20 by 26 feet, with two or three windows on each side, and a door at the end nearest the road. The stove in the middle of the room and the blackboard at the back was the usual arrangement.” Interestingly, at one time they were built on skis so they could be moved more easily to accommodate the location of the students. One man remembers attending the same school in three different places!
Early schools anchored the lives of not only students, but also their families. Outside school hours, schools were used as places of worship, socializing and entertainment. As the schools consolidated, many of these buildings were demolished, moved to become corn beds, or even converted into family homes. One remaining example of one-room schools in Dallas County is the Alton Schoolhouse in Forest Park Museum. It was moved there from its original location northwest of Perry.
As these schools disappeared, the stories that accompanied them began to fade. Groups of interested historians across the state are working to make sure these memories are preserved. One such group is searching the sites of approximately 145 schools that once dotted the Dallas County landscape. Their goal is to place historical markers at these sites identifying each school and the years it was open.
In subsequent articles, we will highlight each town in Dallas County and its schools. If you have any information about the history of these one-room schools – both their location and the stories of the students who attended them – the group would like to hear from you! Please contact Myrna Griffiths at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sue Leslie at email@example.com.