It’s not every day that a 128-year-old rural schoolhouse takes a three-hour trip from a farm, across a cornfield, and into a town so it can be refurbished as a rural education museum, but that’s exactly what happened earlier this week in the small town of Odebolt in northwest Iowa.
This rural community has come together in an effort to preserve its rural schools and their histories. The Rural Legacy Project, an effort of the Odebolt Betterment Committee, started with the publication of a book, “Iowa’s Rural School System: A Lost Treasure,” that describes the role rural schools played in the settlement of the state. It uses the 128-year-old Richland No. 1 school, moved this week, as an example of their impact. Proceeds from the book will help cover the cost of moving the structure and making it a rural school museum.
Richland No. 1 was built in 1883 and functioned as a school until 1951. It was the last rural school to close in the township, and the building since has been used as a farrowing barn (where piglets are born), a lambing barn, and for storage, according to a story this week in the local paper, The Messenger.
The community has received more than $10,500 in grants for its project, and locals hope refurbishing the site will give current students a better understanding of how their grandparents and great-grandparents learned to read and do math, according to the article. The museum will cover the history of rural schools locally and statewide.
This kind of effort to help rural residents understand and appreciate their rural school heritage isn’t unique to Odebolt. The Marshall Center School was built in 1893 in Pocahontas County, Iowa, and operated as a one-room school house until 1944. It since has been moved to the University of Northern Iowa campus, restored as it was in the early 1920s, and is used today as a historic site with educational programs.
And in Jackson County, Kan., a one-room school was restored to its 1910 appearance, and the site offers a one-hour program for students to experience education as it used to be.
The Odebolt rural school house caught my attention because of the physical move it had to make this week. Do you know of any other one-room, rural school houses with a good back story? Let me know.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.