This page contains a newspaper article taken from the Old Settler's Scrapbook (page 145). The newspaper article, published in 1928 is a compilation of brief interviews with old settlers and some excerpts from letters describing schools and teachers during Winona's territorial period.
School Days Prior to Fire in 1862 | First Attempt in 1852 | Other Early Schools |
Charles Ely's Story
Helen Ely: First Girl Graduate of Univeristy of Minnesota | Pioneer Students
Depict School Days Prior to Fire in 1862
This is the story of the days when schools were log cabins, when the students came barefoot and sunburned to their classes, when school equipment consisted primarily of several long benches on which children sat and learned the multiplication table set to music. It is a resume of the time when the principal of one of the early schools walked all the way from Stockton for his Monday morning classes, when the superintendent of schools worked for $100 a year. Most of the early group of school teachers who taught in Winona and vicinity in those days have passed on. It is for their friends and kin who treasured their work that this article has been prepared, so that they might br privileged to see what our pioneer school masters and school "marms" really looked like. But the younger generation too can interest themselves in the story as it unfolds in striking contrast the pioneer school days with those of the present with its experienced faculties, fine buildings, modern methods of education. Bert W. Eaton of rochester, who has taken great interest in the teaching of local and state history in the schools, thinks that the time is now ripe for our school children to become better acquainted with the history of their locality. In a recent address he said: "Here is where we live. Everyday we walk these streets. Most of us will ultimately lie in this soil, Our children will inherit the land then why should we not know and teach our children its history. Mrs. George Blackwell, formerly Miss Louise E. Twitchell gives a picture of the early days as follows: "Many years ago in the fall of 1851, as the steamer Nominee was making its way up the Mississippi to St. Paul and at the present site of Winona, a lady was heard to remark, Were I a young man I would go no further." "At that time Wabasha prairie was unmarred by hut or cabin but a town shortly sprang up as if by magic. Then there came a boom until the financial crisis in the state caused embarrassment in business circles and the town was for a time unable to supply adequately the growing needs of the community. At first a primitive shanty did double duty as school and boarding house, but what a crowd of pupils did gather in the fall of 1857 and listen to the instructions of Mr. Tanner, a quiet, scholarly man. Mrs. Tanner had charge of the primary department. "In the following summer there was a scattering of the pupils, as they left for various occupations, until the winter of '58 and '59 invited a return to their books, with Mr. Thomas as an enthusiastic teacher as principal. Mr. Clarke had charge of the intermediate classes but the place was so filled to overflowing that another room was secured for the younger juveniles under the care of Miss Winters. The influence of these early days, who can estimate? How interesting would be a comparison of the past with the present Winona."
First Attempt in 1852 An attempt at school teaching in Winona was made during the summer of 1852. The teacher was Angeline Gere, a miss of 14 years. She collected less than a dozen small children in the boarding house shanty of Mrs. Abner S. Goddard, who subsequently became known as Aunt Catherine Smith."
Aunt Catherine's shanty which housed the girl teacher and her small flock of children, was located near the corner of Third and Kansas street, about where the Davenport house now stands. It was more of a nursery than a school.
J. L. Denman Locates Site. One of the pupils of this nursery school of 76 years ago was J. L. Denman, who at present is a patient in the United States Marine hospital at San Diego, Calif. In a recent letter he jsetingly states: "I am at this excellent institution for treatment for old age and childishness. Incidently I have chronic bronchitis, same that caused me to leave the high school at Winona in 1866. I attended the first school in Winona during the summer of 1852, when I was six years old. It was taught by Miss Angela Gere. I also was a pupil of the first school at Minnesota City. It was what was called a subscription school, and conducted for a term of three months in the fall of 1852. Miss Ann Orton was the teacher, the attendance about 20 pupils. He further writes thsat "the school was held in a building just across the road from the home of Mr. Thorp, and I believe had been used at one time by him as a blacksmith shop. The old Thorp home was located next door to the old Cotton home, in later years known as the Kennedy farm, and is a quarter to a third of a mile east of what is known as the old O. M. Lord home." Therefore the school was located near the old highway about midway between the brick residence of George Whetstone and the old Kennedy home, now painted yellow, and occupied by the Peterman family. The above description locating the site on which the first real school in Winona county was held, is, we believe, printed here for the first time, and much credit is due J. L. Denman for remembering the location of the school he attended over three-quarters of a century ago.
Mr. Lord Describes Building O. M. Lord, Winona county's distinguished pioneer, whom Mr. Denman speaks of in his letter gave the following description of this school in one of his writings. "It was a small, roughly covered log building furnished with one small window and a door creaking upon wooden hinges and fastened with a wooden latch." Mr. Lord, however, failed to give the location of the school about which he wrote. Mrs. Frank D. Stewart, residing at 456 Main street, formerly Miss Emma Pike, attended this first school when but seven years of age, but the surrounding roads and buildings of late years have so changed that she cannot now recall the exact location.
At Winona in May, 1853, Mrs. E. B. Hamilton opened a school at her own dwelling, where a cluster of Cottonwood trees now stand, a few blocks east of the East End ball ground. This school was of short duration, Mrs. Hamilton being killed by a bolt of lightening June 19, 1853. In the following fall a private school was opened at Winona by Miss Mary Willis, afterwards Mrs. J. Gillette. This is said to be the first school on Wabasha prairie that really deserved the name.
First Public School. Miss Hester A. Houck, afterward Mrs. William H. Stevens, taught the first public school in the county at Minnesota City. It was opened Oct 31, 1853, and continued for 13 weeks. There were 27 pupils. "This school was held in a double log house, the north half of which was occupied by the Thompson family. This thompson family consisted of father and mother and a married daughter, Mrs. Olive Nelson, and a daughter Bertha and a son Charles. I mention these from memory, and they are correct--to show you that my memory about schools, etc. is not so bad considering it was more than 75 years ago." Thus states Mr. Denman in a recent letter. Mr. Denman also recalls that this double log house was located across the road from the Campbell brick house, now occupied by George Whetstone and family.
The following letter to Orrin F. Smith from the late Charles E. Ely, concerning the early schools in Winona is of historical interest. " In 1854 on Front street about 300 feet east of the railroad bridge; was a school of sunburned, barefooted, one suspendered doughnut eaters; presided over by a lady whose name is to memory lost, She wore glasses gracefully, and made good. She landed on the craniums of the youth with the map of everyplace, and the multiplication table set to music. Her sweet voice and pleasant smile taste good after these long years. In 1855, Almeda Twitchell came to bat; she fought the main springs of deviltry in the youth of that date.
She had a hard job, the town had grown; and 50, or at times more unruly fighters and their sisters, had to be shown . Almeda did not have time to curl her locks, or play with the powder puff. Her temple of learning, was on Front street south of the site of Porter's mill."
First School Master On the south side of Second street, between Lafayette and Walnut, there was a frame building, in later years known as Wagner's saloon. Here in the winter of 1854-55 Henry C. Bolcum taught school. About 30 pupils were in attendence. Mr. Bolcum was a graduate of Oberlin College, and in after years a prominent citizen of Winona He was the first school master in Winona county. The late Dr. Franklin Staples, in his pamphlet "Early Schools and Teachers" wrote: "There is a frame, one-story building on Johnson street, east side between Second and Third street--it was a tailor shop--It is now occupied by Miss Hughes as a store. Here the schools of Winona were held in rented rooms and buildings in various parts of town.
First German School
In a building opposite the present plant of Leicht Press, William Pelzer taught what is said to be the first German school in Winona. This was during the late fifties. William Pelzer was the father of the late Edward Pelzer and was a captain in the Mexican war. The late Nick Mertes related that he was one of the pupils in Mr. Pelzer's German school. At that time Nic's father kept a lot of hogs that foraged their living along the levee front where there was grain, vegetables, fruit, etc. Mr. Mertes further relates that when they butchered in the fall the hogs had to be skinned on account of their hides being so full of shot.
State Normal School
Sixty seven years ago the State Normal School of Winona held its first commencement exercises. Classes had attracted few students in those early days, but according to one historian "the first year was one of great promise." Within two weeks the Winona State Teachers college now one of the great educational institutions of the state, will again observe commencement time and so it is entirely fitting to see the pictures and hear a word from one of the few surviving members of the days when a little wooden structure served as a school building, and a handful of young men and women comprised the student body. Herbert P. Hubbell and his brother, P. G. Hubbell, familiarly known as "Goody" were pupils in the first class of the State Normal school in 1860. Among the pupils of this first year now living are, Mrs. P. G. Hubbell of Tacoma Wash. Formerly Miss Louise Worthington; Mrs. Hart of Minneapolis, formerly Miss Etta B. Howe; and Mrs. Lizzie Brewer, of Northfield, Minn formerly Miss Lizzie Evans. The school closed on March 2, 1862, and on account of the Civil war remained suspended until Nov. 1, 1864. As a result the first class never graduated.
(Note: The State Normal School of Winona is now Winona State Univeristy.)
First Commencement in 1861
The first commencement was held in the First Baptist church the last week in June, 1861. Over the wide platform stretching from wall to wall two American flags were hung. Beneath them hung the portrait of Washington, and over the doorway hung the portrait of Lincoln. Concerning Lincoln's picture The Winona Daily Republican for June 27 observed: "He looks a little lean and lank but we thought he was pleased with what he saw before him, and that he occasionally nodded at Washington and nudged Webster whose picture was nearby, as much as to say 'Good for Minnesota!'" Apart of the literary exercises consisted of a colloquy between the Misses Howe, Denman and Thorne in which was set forth in an amusing and graphic manner, the current opinions concerning the establishment of normal schools. It has been written that it was "an exercise which will never be forgotten by those who were present." Miss Emily Robertson, now Mrs. E. P. Howe, of Lewiston, also attended the State Normal school in 1860.
An Original of First Program
She recently presented the Winona State Teachers college with an original program of the first annual exercises at the Normal school, dated Friday, June 28, 1861. This copy has been framed and at the morning assembly Monday, President G. E. Maxwell will formally present it to the school. Mrs. Howe also wrote an interesting account of those early days on request of the author of this article as follows: "I came with my parents to Winona in 1856, where our stay was but a short time, when we moved to Marion, Olmsted county, into a log store building. At Marion I made my first attempt at teaching. It was assisting the regular teacher there. Marion, a small village, contested with rochester for the county seat of Olmsted county, it being nearer the center of the county. I remember when Thanksgiving time came, as in New York, mother wanted mince pie. For apples we gathered wild crabs in the Root river woods, and for the mince meat freshened salt pork that father brought from Iowa by team. In December, 1857, I was sent to Liberty, Sullivan county, New York, to attend the academy. It was a preparatory school for the New York State Normal. I lived with my grandparents who were pioneers there, coming form Bridgeport, Conn., on horseback, grandma on a pillion behind grandpa. A pillion is a saddle without stirrups. A cushion is attached to the back part of the front saddle as a second seat which women ride.
Came Back to Minnesota
The last year at the academy I was offered a position in California at $100 per month. I guess the thought of a long trip made me homesick any way I came back to Minnesota and in a few weeks was teaching on the prairie where Simpson is now, at $10 per month and board around. Then I attended the first Normal school at Winona in 1860, while working for my board at M. K. Drew's. The seats at that time were one wide, long board, and a narrow one for the back. My seatmate was a Miss Laura Cravath. She was the mother of Miss White now dean of Carleton college. Our friendship continued during her life.
Took ride on First Railroad
One pleasant day in 1862 a friend of mine invited us Normalites, as we were called, to take a ride on the first railroad in this part of the state. We sat on boards set across boxes. We went as far as Stockton, then the end of the road. It was called the Winona and St. Peter road. Another time--this was during high water--a few of the pupils hired the small steamer "Winona Belle" to take us around the end of Winona, then an Island to the Sugar Loaf. We were landed there all right but the captain failed to come after us and we had to get back in rowboats, canoes, etc. "I taught at Winona in 1862 and 1863 in a large, square, wooden building located on Center street opposite to where the Exchange building now stands. In the rooms of this so-called 'Cooper's Institute' Rose winters, Mary Langdon, Louise Worthington and myself taught school. There were primitive seats and desks in this school. I furnished my own chair, and the same is now in my granddaughter's home in Bedford, Mass., a highly prized relic of her Minnesota grandmother. This school was a select school. One of its patrons who had two boys in my room brought me one day what was called a blacksnake and told me that if his boys needed it to use it on them. In the winter of '63 and '64 I taught in Chatfield. One of my scholars there was Henry J. Willia. I was asked to take the school again the next year but instead I took a life class of one scholar, August 25, 1864."
Winona also claims the first girl graduate of the University of Minnesota, Miss Helen Ely, now Mrs. Helen M. Williamson of Portland, Ore. Mrs. Williamson was one of the pioneer tesachers of this city, and is the earliest living pioneer woman of Winona. She also relates some of her early experiences in a letter received by the author of this article. She wrote: "My earliest recollection of attending school in Winona was when I must have been five or six years old, or about 1857. My teacher was Miss Lizzie Ford, a neice of Dr. John D. Ford. I remember especially because I was offended at something or another at that time and cried and did not want to go back to school. I can remember when a school was held under Professor Walker in an upper room in a building facing the river, known as City Hall. At intermission I know that we girls would go down to the river and watch the Indians come across from the Wisconsin side in their dugout canoes, bringing fish or berries in exchange for groceries. These Indians kept a breed of dogs that were small and dark-haired, with a tuft of yellow hair growing above each eye. The Indians would throw long slabs of uncovered baker's bread into the bottom of the canoe, then the dogs would proceed to get their share, the Indian master only looking on with indifference. "Mrs. Walker, wife of Prof. V. J. Walker, was my teacher when a child. The Professor and his wife also taught in the basement of the Baptist church in 1859 and 1860. He went from the Winona schools in 1868 or 1869 to the state university in Minneapolis and became the revered head of the Latin department. It was his custom to write on the blackboard the resume of the lessons to be studied, and his last lesson befoe he passed away was photographed and kept as a souvenir by the members of our class. I have thought of my dear father (Edward Elder Ely) and know that it would be a pleasure to him if he could know that I am presenting these notes about early times of his beloved Winona."
Here is a list of names that various pioneers of Winona have furnished as having been students in the Winona schools before Jyly 5, 1862, when the big fire obliterated every vestige of records concerning the school work of the city of Winona.