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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"

Chapter  25 - The Public Schools of Eau Claire

by W. H. Schulz

The Public Schools of Eau Claire

(-As transcribed from pages 402 - 406)

Provisions for common school education were made at an early date.  It is true that oftentimes these provisions were crude.  School houses in those early days were frequently simple structures put up out of rough boards and in some cases out of logs, but these primitive structures served their purpose.  The first school house in Eau Claire was a building of this type.  It was erected during the year 1856.  It was not very large, the size being only 16 by 24 feet.  The structure was built out of rough boards, and it was located on what is now Barstow street.  During the winter of 1856 and 1857 the school was opened to the public.  John E. Stillman was the first teacher.  The number of pupils in attendance was not large.  During the following summer the school was taught by Mary Arnold.  The register shows an enrollment of fifteen pupils.  In those early days the school house was used for various public purposes.  In many cases it was the only available structure for religious services.  This was also the case in Eau Claire.  It was in this small primitive structure that the Rev. A. Kidder held the first services of the Congregational church.  In the autumn of 1857 another school house was erected on the Sparta road, three miles from the village.  This was then known as the Olin settlement.  In those days town government and county government were practically one.  There were no county or city superintendents of schools in those days.  It was the period of township superintendents.  Frequently there were only two or three towns in a county and sometimes a county consisted of only one town.  In 1856 the board of supervisors voted $4000 for a school house to be erected in School District No. 2.  This district had been recently organized.  The school building was erected in 1857 on Farwell street near where Christ's Episcopal church now stands.  It was during that year that the treasurer of the board, Adin Randall, paid to the treasurer of School District No. 2 $199.31, the probably cost of the school building.  This building was rather commodious considering the demands of the day.  It was a structure of 28 by 40 feet, and contained one large room well furnished and provisions for another room.  This building was used for school purposes for quite a number of years.  Later it was sold and used as a Universalist church.  This building was so much larger and better than the ordinary school house that for years it was pointed to with considerable pride as one of the great achievements of the village.  This school house was also used for various public purposes as well as for school.  During 1864 this building was abandoned for school purposes because it was too small.  During this same year a much larger and better school house was erected on Farwell street between Emery and Earl streets, opposite Wilson Park.  In the seventies, when a high school was organized, this building was used for grade and high school purposes.  It was then called the Bartlett High School.  It seems that this was the first regularly organized school district.  It was organized according to the legal provisions of the state by the town board.  The east side of the village was then known as School District No. 2.  It was in this Bartlett school that really the first graded school work was done.  The Rev. J. O. Barrett was the first principal.  He continued at the head of this school until the Spring of 1868.  During the year 1868 Prof. H. C. Howland was engaged as principal.  He served the school district with very marked success.  It was during his administration that the high school was organized.  It was during the year 1872 that the first high school class was graduated.  During Prof. Howland's administration about 100 students were graduated from this high school.  After Prof. Howland's resignation this school was in charge of Prof. S. Steffens.  He was in charge of the school about one year and resigned in June, 1890.  During 1890 the school board employed Prof. Charles Friedel, who served for one year and resigned.  In this school district two other school buildings were erected to accommodate the pupils for grade purposes in the outlying portions of the district.  One building, the Thorp School a four-room structure, was erected in 1884 on the southeast corner of Barland and McGraw streets.  The Lockwood school, a two-room structure, was erected in 1889.

School District No. 3, located on the west side of the river, was organized probably during the year 1857.  It was really a joint district composed of portions of the towns of Half Moon and Oak Grove.  The first schoolhouse erected in this district was in 1858 on Niagara street between Third and Fourth avenues.  Miss A. Kidder was the first teacher.  During the summer of 1859 another school house was built in this district on Fifth avenue and Broadway, where the Alexander school now stands. This old structure was moved across the street during the summer of 1861.  It was later built over for a dwelling house.  This was the first graded school in District No. 3.  The Rev. A. Kidder was the first principal.  He taught in this school from 1862 to 1866.  He was succeeded by Prof. A. J. Hutton, who was a principal of this school for several years.  It was during Prof. Hutton's administration that a free high school was organized, and he became its first principal; after that he resigned and became one of the members of the faculty of the Platteville Normal school, in which school he served for nearly a quarter of a century as a state institute conductor.  During the year 1879 Mr. Hutton was succeeded by Prof. J. K. McGregor, who held the principalship of this school until the various districts in Eau Claire became united as a city system, at which time he was elected city superintendent of schools.  The next school to be erected in District No. 3 was at Shawtown, on the northwest corner of Michigan street and Avenue C.  This was erected during the year 1868 to accommodate the people in that section of the village.  Additions were made to this village from time to time.  Later other school buildings were erected in this district; one in what is now the sixth ward on Cameron and Babcock streets.  This building was erected in 1876.  In 1891 it was enlarged to double its former capacity.  The Lucy Larcom school was erected on Fifth Avenue and Walnut street, the Washington school on Fifth Avenue and Broadway and the Garfield school on Seminary street, between Lake and Bridge streets.  This last structure was purchased from the Wesleyan Methodist Society.  It was later used temporarily as the first central high school, and was then superseded by the new high school building in 1892.

north side of the village, with adjoining territory without the village limits, constituted village No. 1, and perhaps in one sense was the first school district or at least a part of it.  A little school house at the Dells was erected during 1857.  The cost of the building was defrayed out of $400 voted by the board of supervisors for a school house in District No. 1, but apparently since the treasurer of the district only received $303 the building was erected at a smaller cost than anticipated by the board of supervisors.  Miss Bessie Reed was the first teacher in this school.  Later a high school was built in District No. 1, located on Wisconsin and N. Dewey streets. Prof. M. S. Frawley was elected principal of this school in 1880 and continued to hold this position until 1890, when he was elected to take charge of the central high school of the city of Eau Claire.  In 1884 this structure was destroyed by fire, together with all its equipment and records, but was immediately rebuilt.  During the year 1882 the city purchased from the congregation of St. Patrick's church their school building on N. Barstow street.  In 1887 this was converted into a graded school of four departments, and was later known as the Frawley or Eighth Ward school.  The Summit street school was built in 1885 and enlarged in 1888.  It had four departments at that time.  This was later known as the Tenth Ward school.

It should be understood that up to 1890 there were three school districts in the city of Eau Claire.  Each school district had its own school government and a separate high school.  The high school principal was virtually the educational supervisor of the school district, as well as of his own school.  The grading of the schools was partly on the basis of an old course for grading recommended by the state superintendent of public instruction, and partly on outlines furnished by the high school principals of their respective districts.  In those days the organization was rather simple.  The requirements were not extensive.  The main emphasis was placed on reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, geography and history.  Much of this work was well done by the more experienced teachers.  Some of the high school principals were exceptionally well qualified, as their long term of service helps to indicate.  During this period a most remarkable innovation for those days had its beginning.  A manual training department was instituted by Mr. J. F. Ellis in 1885.  This gentleman took great interest in the matter of training the hand as well as the mind.  This manual training department was located in the Alexander school.  As near as can be ascertained this is the first venture along that line in the United States in a public high school.  A Mr. Kennedy was the first teacher in this department.  He was succeeded by Mr. Barnes and he in turn by Mr. Swearingen, who remained at the head of this department for quite a number of years.  The work was a success from the beginning.  The results were far in excess of expectations.  A levy of $800 was made to begin with, but the whole of this amount was not used to support the school for the first year.  During the second year $1,000 was appropriated.  This was more than enough to pay expenses.  It was demonstrated that the cost was about $900 to run this department for one year.  At that time the manual training department never had a smaller attendance than forty boys and sometimes came near to double that number.  Work in manual training has been kept up ever since in that building until it was transferred to the high school after the new building was erected in 1892. 

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