At one time, there were dozens of one-room schoolhouses throughout Anoka County. While some of these buildings are still standing, none are being used as schools today. The students from the smaller schools were “consolidated” in the 1950s and 1960s; a swiftly growing population left the one-room schools unable to cope with the influx of children, and so it was during this period that most of our current schools were built, and the smaller districts were joined into the larger districts that we have today.
What happened, then, to all those one-room schoolhouses? Some of those buildings are now gone, whether due to neglect or some other need for the land they occupied. Others remain as historical places, such as the District #28 School in Ramsey (also known as the Ramsey Town Hall), and some have been repurposed. A donation to the Anoka County Historical Society provided us with some interesting information about one of the old schools in Ham Lake — the Lake Netta School, which was District #24 while it was in use.
Lake Netta School was originally built in 1889, and a new building replaced that original structure in 1935. It functioned as a school until 1961. At some point after that, the building was sold to private individuals, who turned it into a home, and it remains a residence to this day. It is located on East Lake Netta Drive in Ham Lake. While it was common in Anoka County’s early years for rural homes to serve as schools, it has been much less common for a school to serve as a home!
The current owners of the property found items related to the school in both the attic and the yard. While the family kept and enjoyed these items for many years, they later chose to donate them to the historical society. There is a toy truck (of the Tootsietoy brand of diecast automobiles), its yellow paint rubbed off in many places. There is a pair of spectacles, surprisingly intact, with gold wire frames. There is a small, personal-sized blackboard, which looks well-used. Many paper items were included in the donation as well, including a complete attendance record for Lake Netta School from fall of 1914 through the spring of 1918, and a resignation letter from a teacher in 1924 who felt that the conditions she had to work in were untenable. School supply and book orders tell us more about how the school functioned and reveal some surprising parallels to today: one order form dating from the 1910s to the early 1920s includes such items as construction paper, calendars, watercolors, building blocks and Crayola. Not so different from supplies that elementary school students still use today.
All too often, it’s luck that preserves these pieces of history for us: luck that they were not thrown away, luck that the conditions in the schoolhouse attic kept them preserved, luck that the family who lived there discovered them and decided to save them. We are fortunate when this happens, but it would be better not to have to rely solely on luck to determine what gets preserved for the future.
Here at the historical society, we’re trying to think ahead when we can, to collect things that are easily accessible now because we know that they will be much harder to find 50 or 100 years from now. This is something everyone can think about — what parts of your story, or your family’s, would be easier to save now, rather than later?
Audra Hilse is the Anoka County Historical Society’s collections manager. This article appeared first in the March/April 2015 ACHS newsletter.