Column: St. Francis schools make history

St. Francis area schools made history back in 1914 when they came together to become the first consolidated school district in the state of Minnesota.

Below, is an excerpt from a contemporary account of that monumental event. I’m sorry to say that I have no information on its origin, but it’s worth the reading. It tells the story.

“After much discussion and postponement, the votes had been cast and were now being counted.

“Anxiously, Dr. Frederik Vrooman waited, wondering if his and the Reverend William Rice’s tramps throughout the 39 sections of the farming community talking to the people of the seventh school district would pay off.

“A year ago, 1911 to be exact, the legislators down in St. Paul had passed a bill allowing school districts to vote on school consolidation if a petition was signed by 25 percent of the people. Together, the two community leaders had garnered enough signatures to put it to a vote.

“But would it pass? To date, not one rural school district in the state had voted in favor of consolidating their country schools.

“Thinking of the legislators ensconced in the state capitol, Dr. Vrooman chuckled to himself, recalling that in the 1800’s this up and coming village had vied with metropolises such as St. Paul and St. Peter and several other cities to be named the seat of state government.

“He could just picture his tiny village that straddled the Rum River as the capitol city of the state of Minnesota. ‘Well, why not?’ he thought. ‘We’re just as saintly as they are — St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Francis.’

“Then his mind returned to the matter at hand. St. Francis had lost its bid to become the capital city of Minnesota, but if the vote passed, it would be the first rural city in the state to consolidate its many district schools into one.

“Again the good doctor’s thoughts wandered, this time back more than half a century to the first school in the village which had been started in Mr. Fowler’s house in 1859 with Miss Hattie Waterhouse as teacher.

“By 1880 the St. Francis school had been moved to the upstairs of the Woodbury Office Building, next to the garage, and there were also two organized districts in the outlying areas, one of them at Seelye Creek with Miss Ella Seelye in charge of 20 to 30 students.

“Dr. Vrooman shuddered, remembering what miserable buildings these schools could be. One room, one teacher, a rusty stove in the center, and a water bucket in the corner.

“In 1902 a real school house had been built in the village on the spot where John Lindbloom’s house once stood.

“Unfortunately, the older boys were usually too busy working on the farms or cutting timber to spend much time learning their 3 R’s and practicing penmanship. If anyone wanted to go on to high school, they had to take the train from Bethel to either Anoka or the Cities. Dr. Vrooman had attended the births of many of these children and he worried about their future. Without adequate schools, how could this up and coming mill town ever hope to provide the education its children would need to face the modern world? He realized that if country boys and girls were ever going to receive the same educational opportunities as their city kin, it would be through the consolidated schools—the modern educators’ idea of “united we stand.”

The doctor’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. It was his traveling petition partner, Rev. Rice, minister of the Methodist church. ‘The votes have been tallied,’ the Reverend said. ‘Time to sound taps for the old-time district school. It passed: 143 for school consolidation, 116 against.’

The two men congratulated each other on a job well done and Reverend Rice took his leave.

“Watching his friend disappear into the darkness, Dr. Vrooman felt the same surge of emotion he experienced in birthing babies.

“He knew that this new life he had helped bring into the world was probably the most important one of his career. St. Francis Consolidated School District 212 had been born, the first in the State of Minnesota.”

And, of course, we all know that District 212 later became Anoka-Isanti ISD 15. Next week, a rave review of the new St. Francis Consolidated High School.

Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. Join her and other docents for more history in a spine-tingling Ghosts of Anoka Tour by calling ACHS at 421-0600.

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