By Prof. A. W. Grisell

Prior to January 1, 1872, Lyon County (Buncombe Township) was a part of Woodbury County.  In 1871 J. S. Howell was appointed deputy superintendent by the county superintendent of Woodbury County.  His duty was to grant certificates to those who would teach school.

The first school in this county was taught by Mrs. D. C. Whitehead, at Rock Rapids, in the winter of 1870-71.  The first schoolhouse was built near Rock Rapids in the spring of 1871.  This building was since moved to the corner lot near Queal's lumberyard.  It now stands north of the Christian Church, having been converted into a dwelling.  In the fall of 1871 a schoolhouse was built on the southeast corner of section 16-99-48, now Centennial Township.  Four teachers were employed in the winter of 1871-72.  C. H. Smith at Beloit, Milton Jeffers in Centennial Township, Mrs. Whitehead at Rock Rapids and Mrs. C. S. Hollister in what ids now Wheeler township.  In October 1871, L.  A. Ball was elected county superintendent of schools.  He served served two year, beginning January 1, 1872.  Mr. Ball being the first county superintendent and having less than a half dozen teachers at work, did not find his duties very onerous , at least the first year.  Miss Anna Peterman, now Mrs. Frank Manning of Pasadena, California, was one of the teachers in 1873.  There were three schoolhouses.

William Peile was elected county superintendent in October 1873.  There were twenty-seven applicants for certificates during the year ending September 1874. There were five recorded failures among them.  There were, at this time, seven schools and six schoolhouses in Dale Township, which then included the east half of Wheeler.  Each school had a term of three months.  Lyon Township, which included Richland, Logan and Centennial, had four schools six months each, and had three schoolhouses.  Riverside, including Allison Independent District, had one school, seven months, and one schoolhouse, known as the Bailey School.  This house is still in use.

Rock Rapids Independent District had two schools, ungraded and two houses.  Larchwood Township, (including Sioux), had four schools, and four houses. Doon Township, which then included Garfield and the west half of Wheeler, had four schools and four school buildings.  Grant Township had five schools and two school buildings.  The wages paid for teachers were about the same as is paid now.  The average being $35.00 for men and $34.00 for women. 

The school population in the county was 447, with an enrollment of 326.  Fabulous valuations were given for school property, $2,000 being the value of a single country schoolhouse.  The total valuation in the county of schoolhouses is placed at $29,550.  The teachers then were the young farmers or farmer'’ wives.  A. Tolman, Mrs. Cyrus Hollister, Alex. Donnan, George Penman, are some of the people who endeavored to direct the young idea.  Many stories are told of the manner of conducting the school affairs prior to and at this time (1874).  Schoolhouse material had to be hauled by wagon either from Cherokee or Sioux City, hence the enormous cost of building.  Yet people wanted schoolhouses for two reasons.  First they wanted school.  Second the public money was needed by the people, and if they sometimes borrowed the children from another district or another county in order to show a compliance with the requirements of the law, our criticisms should be sparingly offered, and due credit given for the ultimate object.  Besides many farmers were without granaries and the schoolhouse was built sufficiently large to accommodate the school and the farmer at the same time.  “Prior to getting schoolhouses, some who were the proud possessors of a two-roomed house, rented one room, at a good price, to the district to be used during the day as a school room,” and as a sleeping room for the night.

Sometimes the wife or daughter was the teacher and the younger children of the family were the pupils.  Some peculiar methods (some call them crooked) were in vogue during these earlier years.  A teacher was granted a first grade because money was scarce and that would enable them to draw five dollars more per month.  Instances are well substantiated where schoolhouses were built and paid for and then the house was hauled to another district and paid for again.  And some houses were ordered moved and an order issued for its being moved and yet the next year the house was still unmoved.  This made the records look bad, so there was another order to move it back.  Of course this was paid for, too.  Many are the stories we hear of the management of school affairs in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  In 1875 there were thirty-three schools averaging seven months, each, an increase of six.  Nine men and twenty-six women were employed.  Wages averaged $34.00 for men and $30.00 for women.  The school population was 531, and although the number of schoolhouses had increased to twenty-four, yet the valuation had decreased to $28,050.   Orin A. Cheney was elected superintendent in October 1875.  He examined forty-eight persons for certificates in 1876.  Only one failed.  There were twenty-seven schools averaging six months each.  The first graded school was held at Beloit this year.  Wages are again reduced to $32,000 for men and $25.00 for women.  We note that the county superintendent received $9. for his services from January to September.  School property is advanced to $33,175, one building being valued at $3,500.  This was the building afterward sold to the Orphan’s Home Society at Beloit, now used as the boys’ building for that institution.  A number of the county schoolhouses were valued at $2,500.

In January of 1877, Superintendent Cheney resigned and J. M. Webb was appointed.  He was elected October 9, 1877, for a full term.  In either 1877 or 1878 Superintendent Webb held the first institute in the courthouse at Rock Rapids.  Professor Werulli, of LeMars, had charge of the institute.  Mr. Webb, on being elected auditor, resigned the office of superintendent on October 14, 1878, and H. F. Green was appointed to fill the vacancy.  Among the teachers we note the names, W. J. Skewis and Mary Fobes.  Superintendent Green was the first teacher in the school at Rock Rapids after erection of the frame building on the present school site.  Green was elected October 14, 1879, for a full term, We suppose he held an institute in 1879. Miss Martha Hyde and Miss Mollie Thompson taught the Rock Rapids school in 1879 and 1880.

Miss Thompson had taught a school in a private house near Little Rock in 1877, where they used hay for fuel, the teacher and older scholars twisting it at the stack into proper length and size to go into the stove.

Miss Anna Penman was also one of the early teachers in the Rock Rapids schools.

In 1880 Superintendent Green held an institute at the schoolhouse in Rock Rapids.  He was the conductor and J. F. Thompson and A. H. Davidson were the instructors.  There were eighteen teachers in attendance.  Two graded schools are reported.  One at Beloit and one at Rock Rapids.  There were sixty-nine certificates granted and three refused.  The first educational meeting was held this year (1880).  Salary of superintendent was $375.  Mr. Green resigned in the summer of 1881, and A. H. Davidson was appointed and also elected in the fall of the same year, sixty-three persons were examined in 1881.  Compensation of superintendent was $600.  Rock Rapids was the only graded school, Prin. M. H. McGougle with two assistants.  The institute was conducted by Superintendent Davidson.  The instructors were J. F. Thompson and J. D. Hornby.  Teachers enrolled forty-five.  The number of school districts had grown to twelve.  Wheeler, Richland, Sioux, Centennial, Little Rock and Rock were organized and added to the list.  There were forty-three schools with a school population of 693.  Beloit built its present school building this year.  Mrs. E. A. Fairlamb, Minnie Bradley (now Shade), Mrs. C. S. Hollister, L. A. Ball and L. E. Converse were among the teachers.  In 1882 H. F. Green was principal at Rock Rapids with two assistants, and B. H. Perkins was principal at Beloit, with one assistant.  Other teachers were Mrs. Wagner, Eleanor Fairlamb, M. W. Jeffries, Alex Donnan, J. M. Parsons, M. O. Hill, Clint Davidson, P. J. Albright, Addie Penman and Josephine Oates.  The institute was conducted by E. R. Eldridge, assisted by B. H. Perkins, W. F. Cole and Mary A. Roberts.  Superintendent’s salary was $800.  In October 1883, A. H. Davidson was reelected.  During this year sixty-five persons were examined.  Institute was held with Eldridge as conductor.  The school population was then 1,259.

In 1884 there were sixteen school districts, Garfield, Elgin, Midland being added.  The superintendent received $1,400 for his services in 1884.  Institute was held with Superintendent Davidson as conductor, Erwin Baker, B. H. Perkins and J. F. Saylor assisting. Liberal Township was added to the list of districts, making seventeen in all.

Rock Rapids had the only graded school.  B. H. Perkins was principal with three assistants.  There were then seventy-nine teachers in the county.

In 1885 there were twenty-two districts, Allison, Foss, Highland, Garland, Jackson and Pleasant View being added to the list.  J. H. Smith was principal at Rock Rapids.  Institute was held with J. Breckenridge as conductor.  The institute enrollment was sixty.

B. H. Perkins was elected superintendent November 3, 1889.  Cleveland was added to the number of districts, making in 1886, twenty-four.  There were sixty-eight teachers granted certificates.  The institute was conducted by J. Breckenridge.  Seventy-one teachers were enrolled.  G. G. Washburn was principal at Beloit, and J. H. Smith at Rock Rapids.

In 1887 there were eighty schools.  One hundred and seven persons made application and received certificates.  The institute was conducted by Superintendent Perkins.  The instructors were Jas. Crose, G.W. Rith, Mae Benson and J.M. Parsons. Sixty-six teachers were enrolled. Superintendent received a salary of $966.  Ivan McQueen was elected to the office of county superintendent November 14, 1887.

E. F. Blanchard superintendent of Rock Rapids schools in 1886.  There were twenty-four districts.  One hundred and sixteen persons were examined and eleven were refused license.  J. Wernli conducted the institute, assisted by J. F. Hirsh.  One educational meeting was held at Rock Rapids in 1889, there were twenty-six districts, George and Inwood being added.  J. B. Chase conducted the institute, assisted by Miss Emma Garbe and  E. F. Blanchard. Fifty-eight teachers were enrolled.  Rock Rapids then had five teachers besides the superintendent.  Ivan McQueen was reelected superintendent in 1889.

In 1890 there were ninety-four schoolhouses valued at $49,650.  The institute was conducted by E. F. Blanchard assisted by C. C. Hodge and others.  Teachers enrolled, fifty-five.  Eight teachers were employed in the Rock Rapids schools, and one hundred and fourteen received certificates in the county.

In 1891 there were one hundred and four schoolhouses valued at $55,950.  One hundred and thirty-two persons were licensed to teach, and twenty were rejected.  One educational meeting was held.  E. F. Blanchard conducted the institute.  Eighty-four teachers were enrolled.  D. E. McMullen was elected superintendent November 9, 1891.

In 1892 there were twenty-nine districts,  Doon Independent, Alvord and Larchwood Independent were added to the list.  Four graded schools were formed: Rock Rapids, superintendent and ten teachers; Inwood, principal and two teachers; Doon, principal and two teachers; Larchwood, principal and one assistant.  The institute was conducted by Prof. C. E. Shelton.  The enrollment was ninety-one.  There were one hundred and fifty-four persons licensed to teach.

In 1893 there were one hundred and twenty-two schoolhouses valued at $77,000, one hundred and fifty-four persons licensed to teach, and two held state license.  The salary of the superintendent was advanced from $800 to $950.  Nine graded schools were reported.  The principals were as follows: Alex, Donnan, Alvord, one assistant; Eliza Mitchell, Beloit, one assistant; J. S. Green, Doon, two assistants; E.D. Mossman, Larchwood, two assistants; E. E. Blanchard, Rock Rapids, nine assistants; J. W. Abbott; George, one assistant; W. A. Filmore, Little Rock, one assistant; Ada Pingrey, Lester; Winifred Brande, Inwood, one assistant.

The institute was conducted by Prof. Shelton.  D. E. McMullen was reelected November 13, 1893.

In 1894 there were twenty-eight districts, Pleasant View being merged into Cleveland.  One more room was added to Rock Rapids school making twenty-four rooms in the graded schools.  Two hundred persons were examined for certificates.  There were five graduates from Larchwood and eleven from Rock Rapids. Salary of superintendent was $1,000.

In 1895 there were thirty districts, Collman and Lester being added to the number.

There were one hundred and twenty-nine schoolhouses valued at $90,500.  One hundred and eighty-six examined for certificates.  Eight persons held state license.  There were twenty-six rooms in the graded schools; viz: Rock Rapids ten, Larchwood three, Lester two, Inwood two, George two, Little Rock two, Doon three and Alvord two.

Institute was held August 19.  C. E. Shelton, J. A. Lapham, Nora Kelley and Julia Shelton were the instructors.  L. A. Dailey was elected superintendent November 11, 1895.  He was reelected in 1897.  During his two terms the district remained the same number.  He held an institute each year of his administration.  In 1896, 1897 and 1898 W. S. Wilson was the conductor.  Other instructors were J. A. Lapham, Julia Seurry, Mary McCollum, Ethel Fairlamb and A. W. Geisell.

In 1899 there were the same instructors except Miss Ruth Adsit in Miss Scurry’s place and M. R. Hassel was added to the list.

In 1899 there were one hundred and twenty-three ungraded schools, in charge of the following persons:  Alvord, D. E. McMullen; Doon, A. W. Grisell; Little Rock, N. W. Jeffers; George, M. R. Hassel; Inwood, R. J. Case; Larchwood, M. C. Boylan; Lester, H. M. Gardner; and Rock Rapids, W. S. Wilson.

The school population was 4,522.  There were one hundred and thirty-three schoolhouses valued at $106,140.  The taxes paid for the support of schools in 1899 was $72,650.  Superintendent Daily received $1,000 salary each year except the last, when he chose to work on the per diem plan, receiving $1,142.

A. W. Grisell was elected superintendent November 13, 1899.  He was reelected in 1901, and 1903.  In September 1903, there were one hundred and twenty-one ungraded schools and forty-one rooms in the graded schools.  School property was valued at $121,700.  One district was added to the list in 1903.  Elgin was made a rural independent and Little Rock town district was organized.  There are now thirty-one districts, one hundred and sixty five teachers.  The school population is 4,800.

An institute has been held each year and for the past three years a summer school of academic instruction has been held.

We close this review of the schools of Lyon County cognizant of the fact that much has been omitted that would be of interest and that much that is given is imperfect.  Yet we may be able to see that Lyon County in the thirty-five years just closed, has grown from no school and no people, to a thriving prosperous, intelligent community, comparing favorably, we believe, with the sister counties of northwest Iowa.

Respectfully, A. W. Grisell.


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