The Early Schools of Belmond

In the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s various schools served the educational needs of the students of the growing village of Belmond.

SCHOOLS ON THE HILL

The first school in Belmond was taught on the west side of the Iowa River on the Hill by Jane Oliver, daughter of Thomas and Deborah Oliver.  This subscription school was taught in a granary around 1855, and Miss Oliver received $18.00 per month for her services.  While still single, Jane adopted an orphan, Ida May Denning.  Jane later married her cousin Elias Dumond and moved to Missouri.

In 1857 a frame school building was built on the Hill.  No one knows what happened to it, but in the fall of that same year, a brick school was built to replace it.  This school was located somewhere across the ravine northwest of the new Archer Dumond brick house. The Charles Mikesh home, 312 1st Street NW, now occupies the site of the 1857 Dumond home, which was destroyed in the 1966 tornado. Some of the bricks made for the Dumond house were reported to have also been used in the construction of this school, which burned in 1863.

Soon after, probably the same year, another frame building was built on the Hill to replace the brick school.  The exact location of this building is not now known. It was the largest school in the county and served the children on the Hill and those in west Belmond on the east side of the river  This school operated until the Independent District of Belmond was formed in 1878, and the new two story frame building was constructed in 1879 on Block 7 Morse Bros. Addition to Belmond. William Finch was one of the first teachers, and Rev. Sands taught in this building in 1871-72.  Reverend Sands also served as Wright County School Superintendent for a period of time.  After it was vacated in 1879, this frame building stood empty until 1883, when it was sold and moved to Plum Grove, where it was converted into a barn.

SCHOOLS IN FRANKLIN GROVE AND EAST BELMOND

The first school to serve the students living on the east side of the Iowa River in east Belmond and Franklin Grove was taught in a log house on the northwest edge of Franklin Grove.  The house had been build by a trapper named Beebe.  Besides building his cabin, Beebe also planted some corn and potatoes.  According to Luick family lore, Henry Luick, Jr. bought the cabin from Beebe in 1846 while he was on a surveying gang in northern Iowa. Beebe then left the area.  When Luick returned to Franklin Grove from Michigan later in 1854 with his family, they and the Simon Overacker family occupied this cabin for a few years.  Eva Packard described the cabin as “being made of logs, the roof of elm bark, and the floor of puncheon, as there were no nails, no lumber and only home-made hinges and latches.  The windows were holes, ten inches by twelve, cut in logs and covered with pieces of calico.” After it was no longer used as a dwelling, the cabin was used as a school.  The first teacher in this cabin was Isadore Fisk Rogers Notestine, who was fifteen years old at the time.  Isadore had come to Belmond in 1856 with her family, and, according to some sources, began teaching the winter term soon after her arrival.

Sometime after 1856, the exact date and site unknown, a little red schoolhouse was built southeast of town near the present city cemetery.  Those attending were the Rankins, Polmateers, Culps, Luicks, Robinsons, Veeders, Whiteds, and the J. N. Johnson children.  This was a one room school with benches along the side walls. The pupils faced the center of the room.  Each two children had a board desk in front of them.  There were no maps or charts.  The only other equipment was a table and chair for the teacher, a wood burning stove, and a board painted black for written class work. This building burned, probably in the early 1860s.  Only a few books were saved by a pupil, Alice Corp, and her mother.

After fire destroyed the little schoolhouse near the present town cemetery around 1862, Mrs. Billy Thompson took the children who lived north of Franklin Grove and in the east and south parts of Belmond to her home near the site of the old Catholic Church and held classes there until a replacement school could be erected.  The site for the new school was just north of the present Dave Kobes home at 723 2nd St. NE. This building was 18 X 26 feet in diameter and had an average daily attendance of 35.  This site was not ideal.  During times of heavy rain or spring thaw, the school was surrounded by water and a raised walk had to be built so the scholars could enter it.  This building, which had been repaired several times, served until the new frame two story school was completed in October of 1879.  After it was no longer used, this east Belmond school building was moved to Main Street and served as a printing office.  It was later moved to the yard of E. A. Pierce.

Around 1865 yet another school was erected at the south end of Franklin Grove for the children of that neighborhood.  In 1884 this school was moved to the north part of the woods. The new site, at that time part of the James Welch farm, later became part of the Murphy farm, and for many years the landmark school was known as the Murphy School.  Dr. G. J. Hruska bought the building in 1954 after it closed and moved it to his property adjoining the west side of the school yard.  The school site reverted to the George Hake farm, formerly the Murphy farm, and is now owned by Bill Johnson.  The Murphy school has been razed, but the location is marked by a belfry and bell, the bell coming from the former Pleasant Township No. 5 Center School.

During the 1870s, according to ads in the Herald, several people were teaching private schools, called select schools, at various locations in Belmond.  Lessons were given in private homes, the east Belmond school, and in stores uptown.  In these early days, teachers were not yet required to be licensed or certified.  Teachers in select schools were free to teach whatever courses they desired and were paid directly by the parents. The students were usually the more talented pupils.  Lengths of terms for select schools varied.

Students in the school on the Hill and the east Belmond school ranged in ages from 5 to 20 years. By the late 1870s, both of these schools were severely overcrowded, and the wide range of ages and interests of the pupils made it very difficult for the teachers in the two schools to ably perform their tasks and maintain discipline.

The large two story frame school completed in 1879 was a wonderful addition to the growing educational program in the Belmond community.