School: Reed School Visit Teaches History (Memories - 2015)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Abel, Smith, Hanson, Miller

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 5/27/2015

Reed School Visit Teaches History (Memories - 13 May 2015)

Reed School Visit Teaches History

By Todd Schmidt

Another great story……..

Many fourth-grade students from around the area have taken special field trips this spring to the Reed School near Neillsville to experience what it was like to attend a one-room rural school in the 1930s.

Neillsville fourth grade students work on a lesson during their May 13 visit to the Reed School. Students are encouraged to dress, eat, play and do schoolwork like students from the 1939 one-room school era. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)

Don Abel, a retiring fourth-grade teacher from Neillsville Elementary School, has had the pleasure of taking many students to the Reed School during his long career.

“My favorite part of going to Reed School is seeing the effort the students put into enjoying this experience,” Abel said. “They are encouraged to dress like students from 1939, they pack lunches with the same kind of foods eaten in 1939 (no modern day snacks) and they really throw themselves into the lessons taught as if it were 1939.”

Looking back into history, Clark County’s first farms were located along Pleasant Ridge. The area continues to display a pleasant view along USH 10 east of Neillsville.

The first Pleasant Ridge School was a log building built a few middles down the road. A new school building was built in later years, and in 1878, the school building was moved to its present location on land donated by Thomas and Lucretia Reed. The name of the school was changed to “Reed School” in honor of Reed’s land donation.

In February 1915, the wooden school building burned. A decision was made by school district residents to build a brick building with a cement basement. The new Reed School was finished and occupied by November 1915.

The Reed School operated from 1915 through 1951. The school closed when the student census dipped below 10. School district residents petitioned to re-open the school in 1954, but the request was denied by officials in Madison.

At one time, there were over 6,200 one-room schools operating in Wisconsin. School consolidation following WWII all but eliminated these country schools from the educational landscape in the state.

Benefactor Gordon Smith, through the Gordon V. and Helen C. Smith Foundation, decided to preserve the Reed School for future generations to enjoy.

Gordon Smith, formerly of Gary, IN, attended Reed School for six weeks in the spring of 1939 while staying with his grandparents. It was a notable transition from his urban school to one situated in the rolling farmlands of central Wisconsin.

At Reed School, Smith said he found an enriching environment; one of hard work, setting high standards and reaching out to others. Those experiences remained with Gordon Smith for a lifetime, motivating him to restore the Reed School and provide an endowment that will support the operation, interpretive program and maintenance of the historic site in perpetuity.

Reed School was dedicated as a Wisconsin Historic Site June 10, 2007.

“We appreciate the generosity of Gordon Smith, and we do our best to honor his reasoning for endowing Reed School,” Abel said. “We teach a unit in our history classes focused on the year 1939, and our students gain a real understanding of life in the past. They learn about clothing styles, the values of Wisconsinites of 1939, the price of school supplies then and now, and just life in general in the 1930s.

Alan Hanson, director of the historic site, hosted Neillsville Elementary School’s May 13 visit to Reed School.

The students raised the flag (48 stars for 48 states in 1939) and received their study assignments for the day, which included reading, writing, penmanship, geography and art.

Hanson explained that one-room schoolteachers had to specialize in all subjects and teach students from grades 1 to 8. It was a cultural experience, as older children mentored the younger ones all day, from travel to school, through the school day (including recess and lunch) and back home again. Quite often two or three children from the same family attended the one-room school at the same time.

Two exits from the main classroom area were used to keep order, one for boys and the other for girls. They also had separate outhouses. The teacher used a large hand bell to get the students’ attention.

An exercise unit called the Giant Stride enhanced outdoor recess. Neillsville students took turns trying out the equipment.

Part of the schedule at Reed School includes recess and exercise time. These Neillsville students take a turn on the Giant Stride, the most popular outdoor activity. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)

In the 1930s, an art lesson was coordinated by an instructor via radio on the “Wisconsin School of the Air,’ reaching over 50,000 students in Wisconsin and surrounding states.

That experience was recreated during the Reed School visit, as the ‘radio instructor” encouraged the children to use their imagination and draw giant and colorful “golliwogs.”

At the end of the day, a commencement ceremony was held to simulate the eighth-graders moving on. The students had to pass a proficiency exam to receive a diploma.

Hanson read excerpts from the actual 1939 commencement address delivered by the published of The Clark County Press.

“We have experienced hard time,” the publisher said. “You are here to be made men and women who take an interest. You have to work hard to get things. Those of you who plan to go on to high school have to work for it and you have to work together. This is a land of opportunity. Tomorrow you will be the leaders of a rejuvenated America.” The students toured the basement, which is set up as an exhibit of one-room schools. The exhibit opened June 5, 2014. Gordon Smith addressed the group via a taped video message.

The display in the basement of the Reed School shows several classes at the height of enrollment in the one-room school, which was closed in 1951. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)

Several students share thoughts about their time at Reed School.

“The part I liked about Reed School was when we got to read and play outside with everyone,” Willow, 10, said. “We got to act like the students all day. I love it when my teacher (Mrs. Miller) came along and dressed up too. I thought the basement was amazing. It was filled with wonderful facts and other things like artifacts some students used.”

Many of the students said they were impressed with the Giant Stride. Kala, 10, said she learned students had to use fountain pens for fancy writing.

Raina, 10, enjoyed pretending she was in 1939. “We learned a lot of things, but the most interesting was kids listened to the radio and a person told them what to draw,” Raina said.

Hanson said the Reed School is open for school programs the entire month of May and for a short time in the fall. He said there is a travel stipend available for school’s to apply for.

Tours geared toward tourists are offered Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from the first weekend of May until the last weekend of October.

For more information and tours, call 608-253-3523 or email:



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