Anoka County history: Good, old-fashioned school days

Now that we’re a month into the school year, let’s take a trip back to the 19th century and see where your children might have been going to school had you been living here at that time.

The Anoka County township in which you might have dwelt was six miles long and six miles wide encompassing 36 square miles.

Each of those 36 square miles was called a section which was composed of 640 acres. Land within some of those sections was allocated for schools, most of them the nostalgic one-room school houses of yore.

Education throughout the county was overseen by a county superintendent of schools; the first one in Anoka County being William B. Greene who died in 1865 while still in office.

If your family was among the early residents of Anoka Township there were opportunities for your children to attend school there even before it was officially “Anoka.”

According to Albert Goodrich in his “History of Anoka County,” the first school in Anoka County was a private school taught by Miss Julia Woodman during the winter of 1853-54.

It was kept in the “old” company Boarding House which stood on Van Buren Street just east of Second Avenue.

The next winter there was no school in the soon-to-be named village of Anoka and the older pupils went to Nathan Shumway’s house in the town of Ramsey where Miss Sarah C. Bowen kept a private school.

During the summer of 1855 a school was kept by Sarah Lufkin in a small building on the southwest corner of Van Buren Street and Third Avenue. In the fall a larger and more substantial building was erected across the street from the Court House.

Ready for occupancy in early December of 1855, it became known as the Third Avenue School House. The first teacher was George W. Smiley teaching an ungraded class of 45 to 50 pupils. The following summer, 1856, the school was taught by Miss Lizzie Putnam.

According to the 1881 “History of the Upper Mississippi Valley,” if you lived in Bethel, your children could attend school in one of the five school districts, all of which had good school houses and were provided with teachers a considerable portion of each year.

District Number 3 was organized in 1859 and a log schoolhouse built on Section 28 the same year, but school was held at different places until the erection of a neat frame building on Section 32. District 22 was organized in 1870.

The first school house was built in 1872 but later moved to Section 10 in 1875. District Number 37 was organized in 1875, even though the school house was built in 1873, being at that time part of district 22. It was located on Section 2.

District 40 was organized in 1880 and the school house erected on Section 8 that same year. By 1899 another school located in District 30 was so far away that the children attended the school in District 3 at Cooper’s Corner, bringing enrollment up to 40.

In 1903, however, the villagers took a hand in affairs, stormed the school meeting electing C.E. Ledin Jr. as clerk, and promptly voted a new school house which was built in 1904.

Perhaps you resided in Oak Grove Township in 1857. Your children would attend the school taught by Miss Nora Orton.

By 1881 your grandchildren could attend one of the five regularly organized districts in the township in which school was held during the usual terms.

If you lived in St. Francis that same year, 1857, your children would be attending the school at the house of Mr. Fowler where they would be taught by Miss Hattie Waterhouse.

By 1881 your grandchildren could choose from two organized districts in the township, or go to a school in the village of St. Francis which was held in a house furnished by Mr. Dwight Woodbury until a regular schoolhouse could be erected.

Linwood Township, located in the extreme northeast part of Anoka County, started out as part of Bethel and Columbus townships.

If you lived there you would have enrolled your children in School District 4 which was organized in 1860 and comprised nearly the whole town. The older children would have gone to the log schoolhouse, built in 1864 on Section 23, and your younger children would have had the good fortune to enroll in the frame building erected in 1875.

Children of other Linwood residents could attend School District 34 which was organized in 1874. It was a joint district lying partly in Columbus. The same year District 35 was also organized and a school built in 1875.

Although the town of Burns wasn’t organized until 1869, being a part of St. Francis before then, should you happen to live there, your children could attend the school that was taught by Miss Clara Wakefield as early as 1863.

If you lived in Round Lake Township in 1857, which later became Grow and then Andover, your children would be able to attend school in the house of James W. Groat under the tutelage of John Giddings. Kids from what would become Ham Lake in 1871 would be their schoolmates.

Where have all the school houses gone? As time went on and the county grew, the one-room school houses were consolidated into larger institutions of learning. But that’s another story.

Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member of the Anoka County Historical Society and a volunteer guide for their Ghost Tours of Anoka.


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