Anoka County History: Consolidated school flourishes

In 1912, the citizens of St. Francis voted to consolidate their district schools, becoming the first rural town in the state of Minnesota to do so.

Following are excerpts from a letter written by Edith Brown Kirkwood to a St. Paul paper in 1919 regarding the success of this new educational concept at St. Francis — the consolidated school.

“Where is St. Francis? You take the train to Bethel. Bethel is up in the potato-growing section. Because the railroad forgot all about St. Francis when it went through that part of the country on its way to the West, you will have to take an automobile at Bethel for the six mile run across to St. Francis.

“In St. Francis, the consolidated school represents the life and the death of seven district schools.

“The village proper boasts of something in the neighborhood of a hundred souls, but it stands practically in the center of a farming district which includes 39 sections known as the seventh school district of Minnesota. That was why it was chosen as the location of the school.

“The school in St. Francis is five years old. It could have had the honor of claiming two additional years had it not been for opposition, delaying its construction.

“Its first two years of housing were in rented buildings and in the old schools.

“What I found in St. Francis was a three-story building with a basement and 14 rooms, not counting the big library, storage and kindred rooms.

“It takes 10 teachers to handle the work of the school’s grade and high school courses. You can name anything taught in the well-graded city school and high school and you will find that it is being taught at St. Francis, too.

“The pupils live within a radius of 5-1/2 miles from the school, and rain or shine, they are brought in cozy vans. There are nine such vans and the drivers are paid such a good salary that reliable men are obtained.

“The farmers got together last spring and, in work and money, put in something akin to $250 in improving the grounds. This is preparatory to the installing of a public playground for the children and a real baseball park for the grown-ups.

“Off to the rear of the school an acre of experimental alfalfa is being grown.

“Inside you’ll find in the semi-basement the black-smithing and manual training departments, the domestic science school, the gymnasium with its movable stage for entertainment, shower baths for both boys and girls, rooms for agricultural classes, and a domestic science room thoroughly equipped for scientific housekeeping.

“On the next floor are the lower classrooms and the chemistry laboratory. There are big cream separators, gas engines, pumps and other machinery.

“Along about March 1 the chemistry and physics textbooks are closed and the pupils go into the fields. The boys delve into the actual chemical testing of soils. The girls take up the study of pure foods.

“The library on the third floor, a big room flooded with sunshine, belongs to the seven districts. It has more than 1,200 volumes and they are being read. The law requires that at least $25 be spent for additional books yearly. Last year St. Francis bought $100 worth.

“The library is in the charge of high school girls. The carrying and distribution of books is done by the boys.

“Thanks to consolidation, St. Francis today is a musical center. The high school boasts a 30-piece band, seven-piece orchestra, girls’ glee club, boys’ quartet, boys’ chorus, and a grade chorus. The band, organized five months ago, is to be a feature of the MEA convention this fall.

“Instead of a school cafeteria, lunch is served in the individual classrooms reducing the cost, the noise, and the chance for indigestion.

“When the noon gong is sounded, a regularly appointed committee from every room visits the domestic science room where they are given the hot dishes for distribution to the various rooms. Twenty minutes is the luncheon time limit.

“For 10 cents admission the school sponsors special entertainments — sometimes special movies, sometimes plays, for the school has a growing group of amateur actors, sometimes bazaars.

“These events are popular. Three hundred automobiles gathered around the St. Francis school on these nights is not an unusual sight.

“Dr. F.E. Vrooman, one of the fathers of the movement, who has known St. Francis both ‘before and after’ says the consolidated school has done all of this for St. Francis. Whatever it is, St. Francis has made its bow as an educational center and the boys and girls of the Seventh District have an enviable educational advantage”

So, back to present time. How many of you remember the old St. Francis High school, which morphed into the SF Middle School about 1975 when the new high school was constructed, and met its demise in the 1990s when it gave way to the modern building?

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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