Rural Schools

For 80 years, rural schools played the major role in educating most of the children of Griggs County.

Schools were of first importance to the people who settled Griggs County.  As soon as possible, the settlers made arrangements for the instruction of their young.  The first classes were taught in January, February and March of 1882, at the home of Johannes Qualey, who had a two-story log house with a lean-to.  Christopher Bolkan was engaged by the settlers to teach their children.  In exchange, they helped him break some sod on his claim that summer.  This term of school came before the legal organization of the county and the establishment of school districts.  The first officially recorded term of school was taught by Ole Serumgard at the Omund Nelson Opheim cabin for three months ending March 3, 1883.  S. Gunderson also taught a term of school at the same time, probably in Mardell.  The clerk's report on Serumgard's term reached the office of the county superintendent first, and he is credited with teaching the first officially recorded term of school in Griggs County.  School was conducted in settlers' homes, and in the Park Avenue Hotel at Mardell.

The first rural schoolhouse was built in Greendale School District in 1883, and was known as Meadow Brook School.  Located on Section 6 of the present Sverdrup Township, the 16 x 30 foot schoolhouse had an attached coal shed, and was built by James Muir, cost $1240.  The first teacher in that school was Maria Rankin who taught a term beginning in the spring of 1883.  In 1896 the building was moved to Section 8, Sverdrup Township and was known as the Langford or Watne School.  It closed about 1953.

Not many of the early teachers had had any formal teachers' training, though some were well educated in other fields.  Teachers salaries in rural schools amounted to $35-$40 a month in the early years.

Teachers' institutes conducted by the County Superintendent of Schools; sometimes a weeklong gave them a short course in teaching.  Teachers who came from outside the community usually roomed and boarded with a family who lived near the school, but sometimes they lived in the schoolhouse.  Terms of school were variable in length and enrollment varied with the season.  The older children went to school when they could be spared from the farm work.  It was not uncommon for students to attend, when they could, up to the age of 20.

The country school was the place where children of newcomer parents learned the English language and American ways, and brought their newfound knowledge back to their families.  Occasionally adult members of the family would attend for a while, and it was common practice for a young adult, newly arrived in the United States, to enroll for a while in the country school to learn English.

There are people living in this community in 1982 who remember that they started school knowing no English.

In 1884 the county was divided into nine school townships, of unequal size.  The smallest, Nelson, was seven miles long and three miles across.  Red Willow, the largest, was 12 by 12 miles.  The school Township did not follow the boundaries of the congressional, six-miles-square townships as surveyed by the government, and in 1897 the system was changed.  Twenty regular school districts, one for each Township were established.  At the same time the city of Cooperstown organized a special district.

Building of schoolhouses progressed rapidly in the early years.  In 1884, the average schoolhouse cost $700, it was reported.  This was probably the cost of materials and labor not including the sites.

By 1915 Griggs County had approximately seventy rural schools in operation, located within walking distance of the families they served.  Terms were eventually standardized at seven, eight or nine months.  Twenty years later, in the mid-1930's, there were about sixty schools running.  In another twenty years there were less than thirty.  Rural population had declined and roads and cars had improved making it possible to travel a longer distance to school.

School district reorganization took place in 1959 and following, and once more the county was divided into a few large school districts.

The last rural school in Griggs County, Broadview number one, closed in May of 1963 when Mrs. Helen Parker completed her term.

Some of the buildings survive.  A few were retained as Township meeting halls.  Others have been converted into farm shops, garages or granaries.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 54

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