Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

1883 school building being restored

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 07/15/2013 9:58 AM

E-mail article | Print version

ODEBOLT, Iowa — Rural schools dotted Iowa's landscape in the late 1800s through 1966.

It wasn't an accident, according to Sandra Kessler Host in her book "Iowa's Rural School System, A Lost Treasure."

To encourage settlement, Iowa planned rural schools to be placed every four square miles, so students wouldn't have to walk too far.

The rural school system peaked in 1901, with 12,623 schools.

As schools consolidated, the buildings were neglected or found new uses. Such was the case for Richland No. 1 — also known as Willow Tree School near Odebolt. In 1959, it was sold by the district to a farmer, and he moved the building to his farm.

Curtis and Carol Raasch purchased the farm years later.

"We used it for livestock," said Carol Raasch. "First for hogs, then my sons used it for their sheep 4-H projects."

The building had been empty for years before Sandra Kessler Host contacted Curt Raasch. She wanted to visit it for old-times sake.

The memories came flooding back.

They felt that the 1883 school building once again could be used for teaching and learning — as a museum representing Iowa's rural schools.

A 12-member Rural Legacy Project Steering Committee — City of Odebolt was formed. In 2011, the school was moved to the historical park in town that already features Odebolt's first home.

"New flooring and new windows led to new siding," said Barb Bloom, a former teacher and now board member. "School buildings have a distinct style. This one is known as first-generation Victorian."

It does't have a basement or running water. The outside features fish scales, gingerbread trim and corbels.

One teacher was responsible for all instruction in grades one through eighth.

"After ringing the school bell, the teacher would have raised the flag," said Bloom. "Together, they would recite the Pledge of Allegiance, sing patriotic songs, then have a civics or history lesson."

A teacher would assign students seat work. She would have about one hour of one-on-one teaching with each grade. Students recited what they learned at a recitation bench. Students were taught ciphering, reading, writing, geography, history, spelling and science.

Willow Tree School displays a flag with 38 stars. Almost every school in Iowa had an organ. Music was considered important to a good education, said Raasch. A reed organ — original to the school — is back in the corner thanks to the Kessler family. The family saved many of the school items.

The many artifacts include teacher record books and comments on students. Handwritten instructions for sewing class and a riding outfit from one of the first teachers is displayed.

Wall exhibits show how writing materials have progressed. Text books are sorted 1800 to 1900 and 1900 to 1950.

The corner library cupboard is the exact replica of the original. It was taken from another school building that was unrepairable. Students only were given the privilege of reading a library book if their school work was finished and done well.

Another bookcase contains older agricultural and legal books.

Farm tools, children's toys and ladies' handwork are displayed around the building.

A Round Oak Coal Burning stove has been beautifully restored.

"Things just kept coming in," said Raasch.