Anoka County history: Two historic sites linked together

by Brian Boldt

Ramsey’s District 28 schoolhouse on Highway 47, shares a direct connection with another of Anoka County’s National Register of Historic Places properties, the Kelsey House in Andover.

In 1894, the Kelsey Brickyard, as it was known, supplied, the yellow brick for a cheap price to the school-house due to economic hardships of the depression in the 1890s.

The Depression of the 1890s was the result of farmers yielding too much crop of wheat, corn, and cotton backed by a dependence on the railroad to make deliveries at a fast pace.

In turn, the railroad industry hurt matters by continuing to overbuild where their revenues could not keep up.

Similar to the Great Depression of the 1930s, people feared for their money and quickly withdrew from investments. Banks began to fall.

With large businesses going bust, half of the decade saw unemployment exceeding 10 percent.

A Sept. 13, 1893 article in the Anoka County Union titled “Help Offered,” discussed a special “Public Employment Bureau” to help find work for the jobless.

Research suggests that on building the schoolhouse, founders wanted a one-room schoolhouse because that was a popular design in the late 19th, early 20th century.

This is backed by the Depression of the 1890s where the price of brick dropped drastically in 1893 and continued on until 1897 when the brickyard went out of business because it could no longer keep up with low prices and low demand.

School board members of District 28 were able to take advantage of cheap prices.

The Kelsey Brickyard, which started in 1870, supplied their famous slop brick which was wet clay mixed together with sand supplied by men that would stand on it all day to create a cement mixture where it would go into molds and sent to dry for 10 days.

Slop brick from the Kelsey Brickyard made up buildings in Anoka, Minneapolis and other nearby locations.

The same downward economic trend that was taken advantage of by District 28 in building costs, also meant that real estate was cheaper to acquire.

On June 23, 1894, board member, and Ramsey Village pioneer, Ara Pitman, purchased the existing land from his father in-law Simeon Farrington for $100.00.

A cheap price considering 25 years later, in 1919, he would sell the land to superintendent, Edith Patch for $7,000.

Standing 12 feet high, 37 in length, and a width of 25, the District 28 school-house carries on the Kelsey Brickyard’s history through its outside structure.

Bricks were designed for the walls, window sills and arches; but renovations occurred long past 1894.

The original front stairs were wood before being replaced by the current cement stairs.

The chimney, which was added during the school year of 1912-1913, stands at 34 feet in length and is visually different in brick design.

A concrete belt that supports the entire structure’s foundation was not added until 1965 when the building was the Town Hall.

Despite add-ons, District 28 is more than a one-room, brick schoolhouse. It carries a legacy representing a rich history to Anoka County.

Editor’s note: Brian Boldt is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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