Back in Time: Stillwater’s Central School

Another school year has begun in Stillwater. This year a new twist in the classes as the Junior High has been eliminated and the Middle School model has been introduced. If this is good or not, only time will tell, but the one thing that is still true – there will be homework and tests for the students to study for.

Stillwater has been fortunate to have many good schools over the years. Some have burned down and some have outlived their usefulness and have been torn down and some have been restored and reused as something other than a school. There was one school, which sat upon the hill that looked as though it would never leave the skyline of Stillwater and that was Stillwater’s Central School.

In 1862, the school board built a school house on Zion’s Hill, at a cost of $3,000, which was “suitable for the accommodation of that part of the city” according to a history of that time. Because of the growth of the city, and after the Civil War, it was found necessary to construct a larger school to accommodate the growing population.

The old two-story wooden structure was torn down, the wood used to construct a school in the Carli & Schulenburg addition of Stillwater [Dutchtown] and that school became known as the Schulenburg School. The new school on the Zion’s Hill site was planned and completed in 1869 and became known as the Central School.

The school was built with stonewalls, measured 53 X 85 feet, three stories tall with a belfry and was “substantial and commodious building with eight rooms.” The building was to cost only $28,000, but with the addition of steam heat, schoolroom furniture and other items, the final cost of the school was $45,000.

At the school, kindergarten was an “on-again off-again operation” according to Harold Foster who wrote his memories about attending the school in the April 1980 issued of the Historical Whisperings printed by the Washington County Historical Society. “My first day at the Central School in the first grade, I’m sure, was the fulfillment of a dream.” Foster said, “First graders had their own private entrance toward Pine Street with the primary room just inside the door.”

Depending upon the enrollment at the school, some teachers would teach two grades in the same room. Foster had this happen to him in second and third grade, both taught by Lavina Lofgren, and in fourth and fifth grade he had Anita Robertson for both years.

In seventh and eighth grades more students would arrive at the Central School. Those who attended the Nelson School and Lincoln School would come to the Central School, and there were now four different teachers teaching four different subjects for eighth grade.

When the children would go out for recess, occasionally fights would break out. The janitor, Peter Vordal, would step in and break up the fights. According to Foster, Vordal “seemed to be able to sense when and where on the playground” a fight would break out. Nearby the school there was a penny candy store run by Mr. And Mrs. Walters. It was later owned by Bessie Mitchell and is now the parking lot across from the corporate offices of Cub Foods, Inc. Across the street from the candy store was a shoe repair business owned by Fred Corriveau.

As the needs of Stillwater grew for more classroom space, the magnificent Central School building was razed in 1937 to make way for the new Junior High [or East Wing] School built in 1938.

As time goes by things change, school days seem long while your in elementary school and later high school, but looking back those days went quickly by. Although we age and hair turns gray or goes away, the memories of our school days seem like they were just yesterday.

Brent Peterson is the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.