Westonka History Lessons from Dr. Pam Myers
October 2015 marked the 100th anniversary of the forming of a consolidated school district in the area we now know as Westonka. In celebration of Westonka's centennial, Dr. Pamela Myers of the Westonka Historical Society, also former superintendent of Westonka Public Schools, has organized a series of presentations on the early history of the school district.
Myers will share school history at the start of regular board meetings, leading up to the centennial celebration of the district’s first graduating class in the spring of 2018. Summaries of each presentation can be found below.
April Meetings 1916
At the April 18, 1916, meeting, a motion was carried to elect a superintendent. Arnold Gloor of Sherburne, Minnesota, was elected superintendent for 1916-1917 and 1918-1919 school years. A committee of two was appointed to secure a suitable room for high school pupils for the coming school year, and teachers were hired.
The final meetings of the month were held April 22 and 29. The following motion, was adopted by unanimous vote of the Board:
“Whereas on 22nd April 1916 a special election of ICSD #85 was held…at which election is it was decided, by a majority vote of those present and voting, to issue bonds … in the sum of $55,000 for the purpose of building and equipping a consolidated school building, ... and
“Whereas a contract has been let for the erection of a school building, and
“Whereas a building is now being erected, and
“Whereas in order to complete said building it is necessary that the Board secure a loan from the State of Minnesota in the full sum of $55,000 in accordance with the vote of said District, as shown by the election held April 22nd, 1916.”
Bonds were issued on April 29.
February Meetings 1916
Two school board meetings were held in February 1916. Action continued to be on hold regarding the high school building.
The bills paid on Feb. 5 reflected the winter weather and included $3.90 for six foot warmers and $14 for two blankets for the school wagon. The school board clerk was directed to write to the American Book Co. to refund $19.62, the amount overpaid them during the year. The clerk was also instructed to have the postmaster deliver all school mail to the bank and to leave books at the bank.
On Feb. 15, a regular meeting was held at the State Bank of Mound. A motion carried that State Superintendent Schulz be interviewed in the interest of District No. 85 regarding a controversy with Mr. Ferodowill et al. [No further details were included in the board minutes.] A motion was also carried to create a committee on teachers, which would serve to fill any vacancies at the six grade schools in the district.
January 10, 1916 Meeting
Only one school board meeting was held in January 1916. Action was apparently on hold regarding the new high school building. The school board continued to meet to conduct business of the newly consolidated school district.
There was only one motion during the meeting: William Krause’s bid of $60 per month for hauling the children from former District 87 (Minnetrista) was carried and accepted. Bills were paid for custodial work, report cards and other supplies and for the driving of the school wagon.
December Meetings 1915
In Dec. 7, 1917, the board meeting opened at 1:30 p.m. A motion carried that Mr. Holden, who had been authorized to draw a sketch of the proposed new high school building, be instructed to get elevations on plans. A motion carried that the chair and secretary present an application for loan at the earliest possible date to the state auditor from the recent bond passage. The board also approved the purchase of two 4x14 blankets for the school wagon and six soap stones.
On Dec. 10, there was a special board meeting, during which the board debated ways and means of procedure toward the new school building. A motion carried that Mr. G.A. Will would be retained as legal counsel for the school district.
At the regular meeting on Dec. 21, bills were paid for coal, lumber, blackboards, work on the school wagon, paint and janitor wages. That day, an article appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune entitled, "Judge to hear pleas against School Bonds," describing a petition for an injunction to restrain the two-months-old consolidated Mound school district from issuing $70,000 bonds voted recently. Judge Steele would hear pleas, asking that the new district be dissolved.
"Sentiment for a consolidation of Districts 83, 85, 87, 116, and 139 grew faster than the crops last summer. It was the one topic of conversation. Consolidation was voted this fall, directors elected, and then it was found that a larger building and more money was needed. The directors voted a $70,000 bond issue."
Let's put ourselves in the place of those grade school neighborhoods. For example, Lee School District #84 in 1870 bought 1.5 acres of land from the Mattbys for $5. Replacing the 1871 building, in 1894 a new one-room school building was built for $600. In 1900, after using the school site for 30 years, school officials finally dug a well, at the cost of $92. They hired one teacher, who taught students in grades 1-8 for eight months, in 1901 for $245. Then in 1915, they became excited about having a local high school, just like their neighbors in Wayzata and Excelsior. They voted to raise $70,000 to build a building with 10 classrooms, which would need 10 teachers and a principal and probably a secretary and would need furniture and equipment. They were offering to provide student transportation. Perhaps, this step was looking larger than it had before.
"By this time [Dec.21], the price of wheat had become the big subject of conversation. The bond issue looked big. Incidentally, it was argued, dangerous crossings existed, football teams would be possible in a consolidated school, and other factors loomed up as incentives to abandon the consolidated school project. "A hearing yesterday was the fifth the county board has granted to Mound school troubles in the last two months."
No date was given in the article for the Judge’s hearing on this topic. It most probably would not occur before the school break for the holidays.
However, we know that the high school was built, and did open in September 1917, with accolades, also in the Minneapolis Tribune, as a “wonder in every respect."
The article goes on to say that "an auditorium which will seat more than 1,000 persons. The pupils will be transported to and from the school in buses provided by the district. A complete high school course, including manual training, domestic science and agriculture will be offered."
October and November Meetings 1915
It’s not surprising that the newly-formed school board for the consolidated high school district met three times in October 1915 and three times in November; they had quite the to-do list!
Following the first meeting on Oct. 11, 1915, the board met again two days later on Oct. 13. They decided that regular meetings would be held on the third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. and that all bills due would be paid at that time. A motion was carried at that meeting for a $10,000 treasurer bond. Two members were appointed to purchase a suitable vehicle for the transportation of school children. It was also decided that individual board members would be responsible for all supplies at specific school buildings.
Following tours of other districts' high schools by about 20 members of the new district, the board might have spent the evening sharing their thoughts about what they had seen, what they liked and what they wanted to have in the first high school. As a first decision about the new building, they proceeded to pass a motion to put a telephone in each of the buildings within the newly-consolidated district.
After viewing prospective locations for the new school building, a committee on grounds was formed on Oct. 19. Board members were directed to get prices on two pieces of land in question. A motion was passed that a special election be held Nov. 27, 1915 to issue bonds to the aggregate amount of $70,000 for the purpose of building and equipping a school building, at 4 percent interest per annum. On Nov. 16, the board issued monthly pay for eight teachers, varying from $55 to $90.
Polls were declared open at 7 p.m. on Nov. 27 for public vote on the bond issue to build and equip a high school. The polls closed at 9:20 p.m. A total of 459 votes were cast; 300 votes were cast for the bonding district, and 159 votes were cast against the bonding district. The issue passed, by about two votes to one.
On Nov. 29, the board approved the purchase of a school wagon from Mable Wagon Co. for $185. A motion was passed to authorize the purchase of a tract of land for the sum of $3,750. The clerk was instructed to write the State Department relative to securing a superintendent for the next year, and first sketches of the new building were authorized.
In November 1915, students who had finished eighth grade the previous spring were realizing that they would be a able to attend a brand new high school, right here in their own town! They could look forward to being the junior class in the new building in fall of 1917 and being the first class graduating in 1919 ... Little did they know that they were destined to be the second graduating class, but that's another story.
First School Board Meeting, Oct. 11, 1915
On Oct. 11, 1915, the first school board meeting of Hennepin County Independent School District 85 was held in the Little Red Schoolhouse, which sat at the corner of Lynwood and Commerce Boulevards in downtown Mound. For a more complete picture of how the Westonka district came to be, you need to go back 150 years to the start of school boards in the state.
When Minnesota became a state in 1858, the legislature directed each township to set aside one acre for a schoolhouse to be built. Each country school was an independent school district, with its own number. Neighbors in each township met to elect school board members, who then chose the location for the schoolhouse, levied the community’s residents, built a school building and hired a teacher. Two dozen one- and two-room schoolhouses surrounding Mound became school districts in the 1850s, ‘60s and ‘70s, as homesteaders settled, communities grew and children were born.
Students in the early schools attended grades 1-8. Eighth-graders took a state test, and, if they passed, received a diploma. A few students, interested in continuing their education, took the train to Wayzata or Minneapolis for a high school education.
By 1915, school boards in several elementary school districts, including Mound, decided to hold a public vote on whether to consolidate and form a high school. A consolidated district was formed through the merger of districts 83 (Jackson), 84 (Lee), 85 (Mound), 116 (Spring Park), 139 (Ekstrom) and parts of 87 (southeast Minnetrista).
The district had a prudent and forward-thinking school board from the very beginning. School board minutes show that the five-member board decided to make a tour of new school buildings in the area "in order to find out what was best needed for our Mound School and to have a more intelligent idea of the cost of the new building suitable for our present and future needs." Tours were planned to Wayzata, Excelsior, St. Louis Park, St. Francis, Farmington and Norwood.