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Johnson County's one-room schoolhouses showcased in historical society book

County had 160 one-room schools at its peak

Students walk to Washington No. 9, called Pacific School, in Washington during the 1962-63 school year. Pacific is one of many county one-room school houses where rural children attended school for more than 100 years. (Johnson County Historical Society)
Students walk to Washington No. 9, called Pacific School, in Washington during the 1962-63 school year. Pacific is one of many county one-room school houses where rural children attended school for more than 100 years. (Johnson County Historical Society)
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IOWA CITY — Shenanigans such as throwing fireworks into a wood-burning stove and tipping over school outhouses as a Halloween prank were just a few memories rural Johnson County residents have of their one-room, country schoolhouses.

Over the past five years, Johnson County Historical Society volunteers have been working to collect stories like these from listening posts and research about the county’s rural schools. The culmination of that work is the historical society’s first book, “All In One Room: A History of Country Schools in Johnson County, Iowa,” scheduled to be released Saturday.

“I wanted to write a book that took these schools seriously as institutions of learning. There is a tendency to see these schools as artifacts, useful in their day but better known for their unusual structure than their function as places to learn,” said Franklin L. Yoder, the book’s author who attended Snake Hollow School, a one-room schoolhouse in Washington County.

At their height between 1870 and 1920, Johnson County’s country schools peaked at 160, with a school placed nearly every 2 miles. The last one closed its doors in 1966, ending more than 100 years of educating rural Johnson County youths.

One-room schoolhouses had a family-like atmosphere, Yoder said. And because of the small class size, every student usually had to participate in events like Christmas programs and recess games.

Yoder said he hopes the book appeals to a broader audience, not just to people who may have attended one-room schoolhouses. The roughly 160-page book features historical maps and photos along with chapters on topics such as early log cabin schools, oversight, teacher responsibilities and consolidation.

“It’s a really interesting subject that a lot of people are really fascinated by because you don’t really think about how people were educated before our school districts and school systems were established,” said Alexandra McKendree, executive director of the historical society. “It was the beginning of education in Iowa.”

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The idea for the book was to honor longtime historical society volunteer Gerald Morgan, who was interested in the topic and graduated from Pleasant Valley No. 1 school, also known as Bale, in 1960. Although he died in 2013, his wife, Joan Morgan, served as the committee chair for the book project.

Proceeds from the $29.99 books will go to the historical society. It’s for sale at local bookstores, at the historical society museum in Coralville and online at johnsoncountyhistory.org/all-in-one-room.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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