Freeborn schoolhouse still working to educate community

Published 10:15 am Thursday, May 6, 2010

A small schoolhouse that once stood a few miles outside Freeborn now stands at the corner of Park Street and Seventh Avenue, and it’s been converted into a thriving heritage museum. It’s open on Sundays in the afternoon for tours.

District 15 was the state name for the schoolhouse that everyone called the Melander School. John L. Melander donated the land for the schoolhouse and, like other schools in the area, the schoolhouse was nicknamed after him.

The schoolhouse was almost demolished, but the Freeborn Area Heritage Society wanted to save it because they thought it would make a good museum.

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“They were going to burn it down,” Viola Krogsgaard said. “We got the city to move it on city property.”

Krogsgaard, secretary of the Freeborn Area Heritage Society, is proud of their small schoolhouse. She helped organize an event for Freeborn’s sesquicentennial that included having Dagmar Mathiason Jacobsen attend. Jacobsen was the last teacher at the schoolhouse in 1938 when it closed. Many small schoolhouses closed around that time because of declining enrollment. Pupils then had to enroll in city public schools.

The schoolhouse had gone up for auction many years ago and was privately bought. It was used for storage of tires and batteries, so when it was rescued by the heritage society they had a lot of cleaning to do.

“The desks were donated by some families,” Krogsgaard said.

The schoolhouse still has the original teacher’s desk. A few window panes were replaced, but most are still the originals. An organ was also donated to the schoolhouse.

One of the oldest items in the schoolhouse is a black dress that was worn by Idella Snyder when she taught at the school in the late 1800’s. Many other items have been donated as well.

“One family gave some old, old books,” Krogsgaard said.

Some of the books even have “District #15” written on the inside pages, which is clue they were probably used at the schoolhouse. Krogsgaard was involved in a lot of the work of renovating the schoolhouse.

“The curtains disintegrated when I tried to wash them,” Krogsgaard said.

She had similar material at home so she made curtains that were like the originals. She and a few others decided to paint the interior a bright green. They wanted a cheerful color.

“I know the walls were green at my country school.” Krogsgaard said.

When the Melander School was in use all the pupils were in the same classroom, and one teacher taught all the grades. Krogsgaard thinks kids were lucky back then to be able to learn more just by listening to other kids learn.

“I think you learned a lot by osmosis with all the classes doing their work,” Krogsgaard said.

She brought her grandchildren to the school to see what schools were like when she was younger.

“They say it’s practically the stone age when I went to school,” Krogsgaard said.

The heritage society had help from the community with renovations and donations. They have the school’s original bell on the lawn.

There is also work the society would like to keep doing. They would like some sort of display they could put old class pictures in, and they want to get a dry sink in the entryway because most old schoolhouses had a basin of water in the entryway.

Krogsgaard also said they would like to have more events at the schoolhouse. They usually have activities for Freeborn Days in June and an ice cream social in the fall. They are open on Sunday afternoons from Memorial Day to Labor Day.