Cooperstown Schools

Block 18 of the original townsite of Cooperstown has been the school site since 1883, when the town's founders so designated it.

The wisdom of placing the schoolhouse at the far northeast section of town has at various times been questioned and applauded.  For nearly one hundred years, students have walked north to school in all kinds of weather, thinking their own thoughts about the people who put the school where they did.

To look at the other side, the location has made possible a ten-acre campus, which now includes football field, track, parking lot, a bus garage and practice fields north and east of the school.  Had the school been built in the center of town, less land would have been available around the building.

Building a school was one of the first priorities of the founders of Cooperstown.

The Cooperstown Courier of February 16, 1883, reported that the stone foundation had been laid for an $8,000.00 educational institute.  R.C. Cooper's freight train of 50 to 60 mules were regularly traveling between Sanborn and Cooperstown hauling freight at the time.  By July 20, the Courier could report, "It is finished.  Cooperstown's school building is on the south half of block 18.  The edifice is 40 feet square with the eaves 27 feet from the ground, making a two-story building with high ceilings.  Schoolrooms are each 30' x 40' having small study or recitation rooms in connection.  The entry has two entrances from this hall - one for boys - one for girls.  From each side of this hall a platform stairway leads to the halls above.  The stairways are particularly fine affairs, the banisters being of black walnut."

The Courier further reported that the building was surrounded by sidewalks, and had a $700.00 water closet.  (The latter fixture was "around back" to the north of the school building).  Total cost of the building $9,000.00, including the surroundings.   Architect and contractor was C.C. Phillippee.  It should be noted that the school was completely finished before the railroad reached Cooperstown.

The school soon had scholars, and Z.A. Clough, a graduate of the University of Michigan, was hired as the teacher at $88.88 a month.  (Later this salary was considered excessive and the board voted henceforth not to pay anyone more than $65.00 a month).  Mr. Clough reported December 21, 1883 that the first short, three-month term had been successful.  This was followed by a six-month term in 1884.  Mr. Clough had 27 students ranging in age from 5 to 17.

A lower paid teacher was his successor.  School population grew with the town and by 1885 a second teacher was hired.

Financial problems arose.  Though the details are not documented it is certain that the financial arrangements were unsettled.

The Courier scolded, in 1885, "Were there any laws authorizing (the old district school board) to build a $10,000.00 school house on a wild prairie of Dakota, without a scholar in the district? The material for the schoolhouse was freighted 36 miles by sleigh, while the railroad was building, on which it could have been brought to Cooperstown, and the house built before it was needed."

In debt to a St. Paul bank, the school district in 1885 issued bonds to raise the money to pay off its debt.  The bonds were payable in fifteen years but could be paid up any time after eight years.  What was the problem with the bond issue is not clear.  At any rate, the "Institute" was abandoned in 1886 and classes were held in buildings downtown.  One of them was the old Jackson saloon building at Tenth and Lenham, about where the Hoverson house now stands.  Another was the two-story building next door to the present F & M Bank.  A lawsuit followed in 1888, and the district was forced to pay its bonds.  In 1890 the legal matter was settled, the schoolhouse repaired after nearly four years of standing vacant, and classes resumed.

After the smoke cleared from the legal battle, it was found that Greendale school district owed close to $20,000.00 for its $9,000.00 educational institute with the $700.00 outhouse.

The school grew and progressed.  In 1892 the third teacher was added, and a partition built to make a new schoolroom.  Agitation began for a graded school, the earlier practice being, apparently, to run the schoolrooms with students of assorted ages in each room.

The change to a graded school, which was the beginning of a high school, came in 1897, when the electors of the district voted to organize a special, school district, which would run a high school.

Meanwhile, a separate building was considered and finally built for elementary students on the south side of block 49.

The school population continued to grow.  In 1895 it was reported that the village of Cooperstown, population 675, had 134 children of school age.  An addition was built to the large school in 1896.

In July of 1896, Miss A.M. Fitch, sister of Mrs. Maynard Crane, opened a private kindergarten at 60 a week.  Classes were, at least for a time, conducted over the newly constructed fire hall.  Jeanette Bergstrom Costello remembered being frightened at having to step over fire hose and walk past other large intimidating fire fighting equipment.

By 1898 there were 1,164 school age children in the county.  The Cooperstown school began to encourage older rural students to attend the higher-level classes.  Tuition rates were established for out-of-district pupils attending.

In 1903 the highest ambition of the school's founders was realized: A high school class was graduated from "The Institute."  Inez Enger, Adolph Melgard and Lynn Warner were the first graduates.

There was no graduation the next year, but it was eventful.

The large schoolhouse burned to the ground March 27, 1904.  A month later the district voted to bond itself for $15,000 to build a new schoolhouse on the same site.

School was held in the fire hall, courtroom, churches and other buildings until the new brick building was ready.  There were classrooms on three levels, in a horseshoe arrangement around a central hallway opening to the south entry, with two classrooms on the east and two on the west on each floor, and a smaller room on the north of the first and second floors.  That room served as the administrative office on the first floor.  The room above it was used for various purposes.  The basement floor plan was somewhat different to allow for the furnace room and later rest rooms as well, but there were classrooms in the basement beginning about 1910, when the elementary pupils were moved to the big school for a while.  The short entry stair was in the middle of the entry, and was flanked right and left by stairs leading down to the basement and up to second floor.

The small schoolhouse was sold and elementary students moved into the high school building.  The basement rooms were finished and put into use as classrooms to accommodate the growing enrollment.

In 1906 Cooperstown High School graduated two more pupils, Mary Koch and Tena Regner.  Since that time there has been a graduating class every year.  Fifty-seven classes were graduated from the big square brick building, the last being the 37-member class of 1962.

By 1911 there was once more a space problem and the building which was later the creamery on Block 75 was used for primary pupils.  The children used the vacant lot to the north for a playground.  Later that block became a public playground.  The Central School building was completed on the southeast corner of block 49, December 7, 1914, and in 1915 Mrs. Emma Berg presented a gymnasium to the school district in memory of her husband, the late A.H. Berg.  The gymnasium is on the southwest corner of the same block, on lots furnished by the city and the school district.  The Berg Gymnasium was enlarged in 1940, using W.P.A. labor and lumber from the old Cooper elevator.

In 1950 the C.P. Dahl home, which had been moved from Jessie, was purchased as a teacherage for use of the superintendent of the school.

In the 1950's, school district reorganization was being discussed as the rural population was declining and rural schoolhouses were growing old.  Improving the buildings and holding school for a few students began to be expensive.

Reorganization was a controversial issue, and the Cooperstown plan was not approved on the first vote.

As evidence of good faith on the part of the Cooperstown district, voters approved an addition to the Central School building to be financed entirely by the taxpayers in the City of Cooperstown.  The addition, completed in the fall of 1959, is on the south side of Central School and the Berg gymnasium, and includes a long connecting hallway between the entrances to the two buildings as well as an office, rest rooms, furnace room and four primary grade classrooms.

Reorganization passed in an election in the spring of 1960, closely followed by a vote to bond the district to build a new high school.  The new school opened in the fall of 1962.  Both bond issues are now paid.  The grade school bonds were paid entirely by residents of Cooperstown, "Old" District 18.  Bus transportation began before the official reorganization took place.  A few rural schools had closed and were sending their students to school in town before the vote to reorganize.

The curriculum has changed over the years and so have extracurricular activities

Football was first played as an organized sport in Cooperstown high school in 1906 and continues to be popular.  The present nine-man team plays an eight-game schedule.  Baseball, most popular sport in the early years, is no longer a school sport here.  Basketball had to be played outdoors before the Berg gymnasium was built, limiting the length of the season.  The first organized basketball team was a girls' team in 1902.  By 1907 they sometimes played other schools.  Now the girls have a 16-game basketball season in the fall and boys play a season of 16 games in the winter.

Extra curricular musical activities have included vocal groups, band, a high school orchestra, and in recent years a pop music instrumental group.

About 1939 Cooper Capers, a high school variety show, was born, directed by W.E. Thornton.  It was an annual production for nearly forty years.

Until recently, the high school has had a school newspaper.  First published in 1920, The Zip, later called The Cooper High Record, later the Lynx Ink, won an impressive number of trophies.  A high school annual has been produced every year since 1958.

Cooperstown High School has a chapter of National Honor Society whose charter dates back to the early 1940's.  An earlier honor society in Cooperstown High School was called the Marcelleans.  Future Homemakers of America, chartered in Cooperstown High School in 1948, continues to be active.

Students continue to participate in speech events, as well as spring music contests.

The Lynx became Cooperstown High School's symbolic mascot so long ago it is hard to find anyone who remembers when.  The school has two Lynx specimens mounted by taxidermists guarding the entry from the top of a trophy case.

First school board in 1883 when Cooperstown was known as District Number Four: George Barnard, director; Frank M. Rockwell, clerk; William Glass, treasurer.

First school board in 1884 of Greendale School District of which Cooperstown school was a part: Knud Thompson, director; William Glass, clerk; Jack N. Brown, treasurer.

First school board of Cooperstown Special District, 1897:

M. W. Buck Clerk
E. W. Blackwell Treasurer
David Bartlett President
O. A. Melgard  
A. H. Berg  
F. J. Stone  
Mrs. R. M. Cowen  


First school board of the reorganized Cooperstown Special School District Number 18 in 1960:

Roy L. Solberg President
Archie Marson Director
K. A. Monson      “
Marvin Retzlaff      “
Trygve Thompson      “

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 60

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