The educational feature was one of the earliest, as it is likewise one of the chief and present, thoughts of the people of O'Brien county. They adapted themselves to what they were able to do. Though they could not build a sixty-thousand-dollar brick school building, they insisted on the school nevertheless and built the shack school house, even as they themselves lived in the shack shanty. They even held school in the old log court house. But the primal fact remained that they kept school. In the simple town plat of Old O'Brien, the old county seat in i860, on the first fly leaf of record deed book "A," the first deed record book of the county, a block is set apart for a school site. Clark Green and James Roberts did the same for Primghar when the town was surveyed out with a four-foot lath, which was the fact. Indeed the school block has been among the first blocks platted in every town in the county.
The schools of the county are under the immediate supervision of the county superintendent. Prof. J.J. Billingsly is the present incumbent of that office. This has been the one sacred office in the county, so considered and so dealt with in fact, and has been kept largely out of and free of politics. The elections to this office have resulted meritoriously. Its school superintendents have mainly been persons of ripe experience along the lines of educational work. For instance. Miss Ella Seckerson filled the office for ten years from January 1, 1892, to January 1, 1902. and prior to which time she had held a position as one of the corps of teachers in the Sheldon high schools for many years. Miss Nellie Jones was superintendent of schools for seven years, from January 1, 1902, to January 1, 1909, with a well equipped experience of fourteen years as teacher and a large portion of the time as lady principal of the same Sheldon high school. Prof. J.J. Billingsly, now completing his sixth year as county superintendent, had served Primghar six years, Sanborn six years and Paullina three years, as superintendent of their high schools. David Algyer, superintendent six years, was school principal in Sanborn. Here is one period alone of twenty-nine years wherein


the office has been presided over and had the ripest experience of four veteran educators of the county.
Educators who can and did supervise large bodies of children, dealing with parents and boards and school subjects, were the ideal candidates for the still larger powers of organization necessary to manage the machinery needed to educate five thousand five hundred and ninety-nine children, according" to the last official report from this office; with supervisory business connected with twenty-two boards; with about two hundred teachers; with about one hundred and thirty-three rural school buildings; with about two hundred school officials, including school treasurers and secretaries, the various functions being like companies, regiments, divisions and brigades, moving systematically with military precision and with one common aim. We also note the fact that in each case of the four superintendents above named, as likewise the earlier superintendents mentioned below, their years of experience were in O'Brien county schools, which gave to them the peculiar local knowledge of facts and conditions within the county.
The high schools in the six main towns are now accredited schools, entitling the high school graduates to enter the several colleges of the state without further preparatory work.
Three of the high schools of the county, Sheldon, Hartley and Sutherland, have met the requirements and have been appointed as normal training schools for the rural school teachers, entitling those three high schools to receive an annual appropriation of about seven hundred and fifty dollars each, or about sufficient, or a little more, to pay a qualified instructor. These normal training schools are intended to fill the same place for the rural school teacher that the State Normal Training School at Cedar Falls furnishes to the aspirants for high school positions. The Primghar high school was also so designated in 1914.
Among the earlier county superintendents, Harley Day was superintendent of the Primghar schools four years, Stephen Harris three years, Miss Bell Cowan two years and C.H. Crawford two years. Thus we see that in all eight of its county superintendents had had a large experience in O'Brien county public schools.
We mention these four first because they are the last and recent superintendents, and have each had long terms in which to fully organize and carry out the policies of our present magnificent school system under its modern equipments. We should not, however, forget the very great service rendered by the early and pioneer school superintendents from 1870, when the settlers


arrived, in the persons of Stephen Harris, D.A.W. Perkins, Jesse A. Smith, A.B. Chrysler, Harley Day, David Algyer, C.H. Crawford and Miss Isabella Cowan. These superintendents were each highly educated persons, and in each case had had experience in the several schools of the county. Their terms were shorter (except Mr. Algyer, who served six years) and were handicapped by the pioneer conditions, buildings and equipments. We also note the fact that in every case of all this large number their experience as teachers and educators was had in our own O'Brien county schools.
The writer hereof saw in the early days of this county school houses built with only a one-side slant roof. But, mark the fact, they kept school. The writer, in the seventies, attended sundry lyceums, school programs and debates in some of those primitive school buildings that would do credit to some of the later contests for oratorical championships. An item elsewhere in this history refers to the Baker Library Association, maintained for so long a period, organized as it was in the very earliest day of the homesteader, and which is even yet maintained at Sutherland as one of the definite educational features. Relating to libraries, we might also add that each high school in the county is equipped with a working library of reference works and volumes covering the usual list of subjects found in most libraries. Even many of the rural schools have libraries conforming to their measure, ranging from twenty to three hundred volumes in the several country school buildings. The office of the county superintendent, at the court house in Primghar, sets the example of six hundred volumes of a well selected teacher's library, covering the desirable subjects.
We have spoken elsewhere of the laudable and appreciated work during now sixteen years of George W. Schee, in his encouragement and large financial aids in the various public schools of the county, of his prizes given in the way of trips to Washington, the Buffalo Exposition, to Pike's Peak and the West, of groups of the champion scholars in the public schools, as educational features, and of his efforts in the education of loyalty and patriotism to the country, in the furnishing of a flag, the Stars and Stripes, to be displayed on every school house in the county, as an educational aid, as well as a high ideal in moral uplift.
Indeed, all information, communication, moral uplift or training on any goodly line, whether proceeding from the home, the church, the school, the press, the courts or other sources, is educational. These desirable conditions are everywhere to be seen, felt and enjoyed by our citizens.
The school buildings and equipments throughout the county have grown in size, in value, in quality, and facilities proportionately as the county has


increased on other lines. In these very conditions we observe an education within itself. This is especially notable in the construction of the twenty to sixty-thousand-dollar brick school buildings in the several towns. No better comparison of the relative conditions of, say, three periods in the school development of one of our towns can be made than hrst a reference to the small one-story frame school building, about the size of the usual rural school building in the country, first erected in Sheldon in 1873, immediately as it became a town; then the second building, still a wooden frame, but two stories high, with still the stove heat and other items corresponding, and then the final three-story brick structure, with a heating plant alone whose cost would have built at least three school buildings like the first named, with all modern features that go with it. Perhaps at this point we should make note of the one great calamity to Sheldon's first modern brick building, which was burned in the year 1904, it being indeed the only large school building ever burned or destroyed in the county. We must also note how, like Chicago, before the embers and ashes were cold, its more than duplicate was planned and carried at once to completion. The school buildings and equipments and public developments, in which we take a pride and which become all but sacred, may meet with disaster and be destroyed, but the ideal sentiments back of them, and the determination to rehabilitate and even again enlarge upon them, cannot be consumed or blotted out.
One item is noticeable in the construction of all our school buildings in the several towns, namely, that they are all built not for a day, but, in size and proportions in the different rooms and departments, for the growing future of the years to come. For instance, the assembly rooms in the several buildings, that now perhaps have from sixty to one hundred seats, are in fact built to hold from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty, with all other details and offices and accommodations to correspond. Also, for instance, while all the towns in the county do not at this date conduct classes for the girls in domestic science or the art of cooking, or a manual training in the trades for the boys, yet the rooms are provided for this work and the idea of growth held out, which will all come as a certainty in due time.
The high school buildings in the county are now also equipped with gymnasiums, thus taking into account the benefits of athletics, basket and base ball and other games and, indeed, all those features belonging to recreation and building up of the body. To these may be added the sundry connections of each school through its several teams for physical and mental


contest, in their relations with the district, state and interstate leagues representing those fields.
The schools of the county have also made much headway in meeting the requirements of the sanitary laws and rules of the state board of health. At this date there are about fifty modern heating and ventilating systems in the rural school buildings and many are equipped with sanitary drinking jars and individual drinking cups.
Our high schools have not only libraries of books, but are provided with desirable daily newspapers, county papers and magazines. There are now ten newspapers published in the county, which contribute much to general educational advantages.
In addition to these direct school equipments, are numerous private libraries in the homes, as well as the daily papers found there, with other magazines and periodicals finding their way to the school rooms. It is probably a safe estimate to say that close to three thousand copies of daily papers are taken in the homes and offices of the county.
O'Brien county has its full share of telephones and rural free deliveries, all furnishing information and educational advantages not merely to the children, but their parents, and even to the transient within the county.
The lecture courses and chautauquas have a good showing in this county. Indeed it is not merely a showing, but continual courses from year to year and for now about fourteen to sixteen years have been held in the larger towns, and lesser and corresponding efforts in the smaller towns. Practically all the leading educators, ministers, politicians and men of note on all lines have been heard in one or other of the towns of the county.
We must not omit the large force of the church as an educator. This feature has received its full notice in the sundry items of church history herein given. The local press, consisting at this date of ten papers in the county, may well be considered a part of the educational features. The press will be noticed in a special article.
The several county superintendents since 1870 have held annual teachers' institutes, of from one to two weeks. This is in the nature of a normal training school, covering all those general questions found in the high and rural schools, the subjects and classes being conducted by the county superintendent and special educators employed, for which a fund is appropriated from the revenues of the county. This institute also keeps well in hand all those proper organizations throughout the county connected with school affairs, including their relations with school officers, and other general questions and bodies.


There are also several parochial and church schools. The German Lutheran church at Germantown, in Caledonia township, has for about thirty years conducted a parochial school in connection with their large church. This school is methodically arranged in grades and has all the facilities equal to a full high school course. Indeed many of the branches taught, including the languages, the higher mathematics, the classics and other higher studies, lift it well up to the academic or even the collegiate standard. The township being practically all German, that language is given precedence. The St. John's Lutheran Evangelical church in Center township, as likewise the German Lutheran churches at Calumet and Hartley, hold courses of study and regular school instruction in connection with their churches. The Catholic church, as will be seen elsewhere, does likewise for its people in its various churches in the county. The Friends church in Highland township does a similar work along the lines of that society.
The following is a complete list of the county superintendents since 1860, with the inclusive calendar years during which they served: Hannibal H. Waterman, i860; John J. Jenkins, 1861; George Hoffman, 1862; Moses Lewis, 1863-1868; Chester W. Inman, 1869; Stephen Harris, 1870- 1872; D.A.W. Perkins, 1873; Jesse A. Smith, 1874-1875; A.B. Chrysler, 1876-1877: Harley Day, 1878-1881; David Algyer, 1882-1887; C.H. Crawford, 1888-1889; Isabella Cowan, 1890-1891; Ella Seckerson, 1892-1901; Nellie Jones, 1902-1908; J. J. Billingsly, 1909, and still serving.


The attendance in the rural schools of O'Brien county is much smaller than fifteen or eighteen years ago. It is no uncommon thing to find from six to ten pupils in a rural school. At this writing four adjacent schools in the center of the county have fifteen, thirteen, nine and five, respectively. Fifteen years ago many of these same schools had from twenty-five to thirty or more. It is no fault of the educational administration of the county, or lack of interest in education on the part of the people. It is rather the result of conditions. The children of the older settlers are now grown up, with families of their own. Eighteen years ago the heads of these now second generation families were still many of them in the rural schools. Hundreds of this second generation have during all the years gone to Minnesota, the Dakotas, Canada and everywhere west, seeking the cheaper lands, and leaving the older people in the county with no representatives in the schools. These same conditions are true over many parts of Iowa.

O'Brien County Iowa Genealogy - The IAGenWeb Project