Belmond’s First School

The Two Story Frame School

135-s-school-built-1874-copy

By 1878 the population of Belmond had expanded to the point where the two local schools were no longer able to handle all of the pupils. The school on the Hill in west Belmond, constructed in 1863, was the largest school in the county, but it was seriously overcrowded by 1878. Serving the children on the east side of the Iowa River was a small school located just north of the present David Kobes home at 723 2nd Street NE. This school had also been built in the early 1860s to replace a little red schoolhouse located near the present cemetery which had burned. It too was overcrowded. Both schools contained grades one through eight.

Realizing that the educational needs of the children in Belmond needed improvement, the citizens organized the Belmond Independent School District May 18, 1878. David Luick was elected president of the Board of Directors, John Kent, Secretary and D. L. Cuppett, Treasurer. In 1879 one of the first major items of business for the newly elected board was to purchase Block 7 Morse’s Addition for school purposes. The cost of the block was $350. This is the block where the former Parker School is now located.

Also in 1879 plans were made to construct a two story frame school on the newly purchased lot which would serve all the children of Belmond on both sides of the river. Joe B. White of Clarion was selected to erect the new schoolhouse. The building was to cost $1029.00, and White would receive $850 when the house was accepted by the board and the balance the next April. The 28 X 48 foot building was to be 24 feet high and completed by October 15, 1879. The front of the building faced south. White gave bonds for $2000.00 to secure compliance of contract.

Mr. White and his assistant Mason Mills located abundant deposits of boulders on the S. D. Martin farm west of Belmond. Holes were drilled into the boulders and filled with powder, which was then ignited. The resulting explosion created ample supplies of rock to be used in laying the foundation of the school. Work progressed rapidly, and by the first part of August the foundation was complete. Because Belmond was not yet serviced by any trains, Mr. White went to Garner to get the lumber for the new building and brought it back to Belmond using teams and wagons.

By mid-September the roof was ready to be shingled. However, a terrible accident occurred Three men, A. R. Nelson, L. E. Metcalf, and Ed. Glendy were 23 feet from the ground on the west side of the building when the scaffolding came loose. Although the men met with serious injuries, none were killed. By the end of October, the new building was completed and the work accepted by the board.

On Friday, October 10, 1879, as the school neared completion, the young ladies in Belmond held a social at the new school house to raise money for maps, globes, and other items needed in the school. Admission was 75 cents a couple or 50 cents a person.

Mr. C. M. Barnes from Ohio, and Miss De Etta Clark of Waukon were hired to teach in the new school. About this time it was also decided to move the old school from east Belmond to the new school block to be used by the primary department. The children from the Hill would also be attending the new school. Seats and desks for the building were ordered from Chicago and were expected in Garner in a few days. The first principal was Victor L. Dodge.

When the new school was completed in 1879, it lacked a bell. This evidently caused growing concern because a few years later, on November 23, 1881, the following item appeared in the Herald: “NEEDED: If the Belmond school house had a bell sufficiently large to be heard over the district, it would be appreciated by teachers and scholars. Can’t some kind of entertainment be gotten up and funds raised to buy a good bell! There are few clocks in town that keep the same time and the result is a very irregular arrival of the scholars at school. Some go too early and others as much too late. A bell could regulate this.”

On Friday, February 10, 1882, the students held another social to raise money to purchase a large school bell. This event was held at Stacy’s Hall downtown and admission was 15 and 25 cents.

Belmond grew rapidly, and it wasn’t long before the new school was overcrowded. By March 1883, the school board was discussing the project of enlarging the town school building. By April the board decided to hold an election on May 7 to ratify or reject the need to bond the district for $1600 and erect an addition to the building built in 1879. The election was held and 26 votes were cast, all for the proposal. G. L. Cutler was awarded the contract to erect the new 22 X 36 two story addition and to put the old house in thorough repair. The new addition would run east and west, forming an L with the old school. The cost was $1173, and the work was to be finished by October 1.

In time the needed money was raised and the bell ordered. By January 10, 1883, the new school bell had arrived and was awaiting placement in the belfry, which was yet to be constructed. The bell was procured through the firm of Cuppett and Lake. However it wasn’t until the first of September, 1883, that the bell was placed in the recently completed belfry, which was erected on the roof at the juncture of the new addition to the main building. By mid-October, the school with its new addition was complete, and it had a bell. However, not everyone was pleased with it. The same editor, who had complained about the school not having a bell, now wrote, “The bell is of poor metal or else too small as it does not give out a very sonorous sound.”

Dissatisfaction with the bell must have continued because the Wednesday, September 30, 1885, issue of the Belmond Herald stated, “The school board have bought a new bell for the school house. It is a good one and cost about $50.” Later, in 1895, this bell was installed in the belfry of the new brick school. This 1885 bell is currently on display in the Belmond Historical Society museum.

The summer of 1884 proved costly for the school district. At the end of July, lightning struck the east chimney and roof of the new addition to the school. Although much damage occurred, the fire miraculously burned itself out, and the building was not destroyed. The following month, some boys deliberately broke out 44 panes of glass in the windows on the north side of the “L”, adding to the cost of the repairs.

In the fall of 1884, J. G. Grundy was hired as principal to replace Dodge. Professor Grundy immediately began to organize at Belmond the first three year high school in Wright County. Five talented graduates of the eighth grade were selected to complete the three year course in two years. The five students were Ernest Cameron, Ora Cutler, Blanche Pritchard, Edgar Pritchard, and Grace Richardson. Two more teachers were hired, and these five students became the first class to graduate from Belmond High School in 1886. The three year high school continued until 1891, when another year was added, and Belmond had a four-year high school, again the first in Wright County. Because the added year had to be completed, there was no graduation in 1892.

By 1894, the school was again very overcrowded. More space was desperately needed, but no suitable rooms in town could be found. To solve the problem, the board advertised for bids to have a new building built. The contract was awarded to Clark and Kenefick to build another small school in the style of the traditional country school. According to the ad in the Herald, the specifications for this building would be “20 X 28, with 12 foot ceiling, with three windows on each side.” Costing $300, “the school would be erected on the school grounds and rented to the school district for one year, commencing August 27, 1894, or as long as the district wishes to rent, at a rate per annum, and must be removed when not needed by the district.” After it was completed, this building was used by the primary department. Although the small school had to be built to provide adequate room to carry on classes, the board was already thinking about replacing the old 1879 school and this new small one with a much larger building.

Professor Grundy, the first principal, remained at the school until 1889. In 1888, he married Blanche Pritchard, one of the members of the Class of 1886. In 1889 they moved to Eagle Grove where he served as principal and Mrs. Grundy served as assistant principal. They were in Eagle Grove for sixteen years. From there they moved to Des Moines, where Mr. Grundy was principal of North High for ten years. They retired to Long Beach, California. The principals who followed Grundy were Professors W. H. Bowser, E. A. Pierce, and Angus Macdonald.

In 1895 the last class graduated from this building. The graduates were Lee Luick, Glenn Clark, Newton Griesy, Maree Millis, Galen Ripley, Mae Severance, and Jennie Finch.

This two story frame building served the community through the first half of 1896, when it was replaced by a spacious two story brick school.