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Country school on the move… again

Occasionally, a country school building will be moved.

Mark Schwanebeck recently gifted a country school house which has been in his family for three generations. The building will be moved from Tyler to Balaton. Contributed photo

Mark Schwanebeck recently gifted a country school house which has been in his family for three generations. The building will be moved from Tyler to Balaton. Contributed photo

In August 1879 the township of Shelburne was organized in Lyon County in the far southwestern corner of Minnesota, and a short time later, School District 49 was established, and a small school house was built in 1881 in the country near Burchard. It was a typical one-room country school with two cloak rooms, one for the girls and one for the boys.

The school was moved for the first time in 1889 when it was relocated to the small town of Burchard. The small school was added onto, and a new wooden floor was installed. When one is standing inside the school it is easy to see how the school was added onto.

The school has been in the Schwanebeck family for generations now, and retired teacher Mark Schwanebeck, of Marshall, feels a strong connection as his mother, Eleanor, began her teaching career in a country school. The first teacher for the Burchard School was Miss Sadie Bartlet. She was followed by a Mrs. Kirpatrick, Viola Castleman, Marian Goltz and Alta Gifford. In the era it was typical for teachers who were usually single to live with the families of the students who attended the school. The teacher would rotate from family to family throughout the school year so no one family would have the burden of housing and feeding an extra person for an extended time.

“When you lived with the families you were expected to help the children in that home with extra studies, so they could get a little further ahead,” said former country school teacher Mary Mattson. Mattson is a member of the Balaton Historical Society and active in the mission of getting the school moved as soon as possible. Mattson and Eleanor Schwanebeck taught school together and became lifelong friends.

“I remember my mother telling about the school being closed. She had five students in four different grades at the time. She was told the school was being consolidated with Ruthton, and she was to report to the school in Ruthton the next morning. The students showed up at the little school house, and the teacher wasn’t present, so they returned home, that was the policy in those days. If the teacher wasn’t at the school there was no school that day. The parents protested, and for a very short time, it worked, but eventually, the students were moved to the new location. When my mother and I fixed the school up we only put five student’s desks in it because that is how many students she had when it closed,” said Schwanebeck.

Burchard School as it is today, fully restored and awaiting its fourth move. Contributed photo

Burchard School as it is today, fully restored and awaiting its fourth move. Contributed photo

When the school closed in 1957, the building and its contents were auctioned off and bought by Schwanebeck’s grandfather, Elmer Benson, who then began using it to store grain. The school was situated in such a way that it touched Benson’s property so it was a logical purchase for him.

“I remember when I was little I would look in the windows into the large classroom, and the whole bottom half of the school was full of oats. I was told in later years that the oats actually helped preserve the structure of the building. Later when my grandfather retired from farming, the oats were removed, and the building was used for social gatherings. I remember many family reunions, picnics and my grandmother, Esther, having birthday club and other gatherings in the building. When grandpa died, my grandmother moved into Ruthton, and the school building was moved for the second time, to my parents’ farm between Ruthton and Balaton,” said Schwanebeck.

When Schwanebeck’s parents retired and moved to Tyler in 1979 the school experienced its third relocation when Clarence and Eleanor moved with them to Tyler. The building was then used to house and display the many pieces of antique furniture and other collectable items Eleanor loved.

“About five years ago my mother and I decided the school needed some TLC and made some restorations to the building. Over the years the exterior of the building had been well maintained, but we felt the interior should be brought back to resemble its original style.

The interior ceiling was covered with a heavy cardboard-type material, which we are sure was for acoustic reasons. The walls and ceiling needed to be repainted. It was quite a project, and we hired Dennis Keiffer to do the restoration. When he started painting the ceiling it was discovered that the paint used contained calcimine, which meant that layer had to be sanded off. It was quite a job. The building has an oak floor, which I believe was installed at the time of the addition; an oak floor in a country school was very unusual. Most schools had a fir or pine plank-type flooring, but we were pleased our little school has oak, and the floors were sanded down and varnished,” said Schwanebeck. Once again the little old school rang with the voices of friends and family and the laughter of many as it became a favorite gathering place where Eleanor hosted many birthday parties, circle, picnics, etc.

“It was wonderful to see Eleanor enjoying the school again. It brings back so many wonderful memories we shared during our teaching careers. She was a wonderful teacher and friend, and the little old school is special too,” said Mattson.

“My mother passed away in August of 2015, and I sold her home shortly after that. She had never spoken of what her wishes might be for the school building, but when I sold her home I kept the school building separate. I wanted the old Burchard School to be remembered and enjoyed by many. It seemed logical to donate it to the Balaton Historical Society. Many of the students who attended this school went on to graduate from Balaton High School. Even though mother and I had never discussed what we would do with the Burchard School, I am sure she would be happy that it will be used and appreciated by the people of the Balaton area. Mother attended and taught in several rural schools around Balaton and recalled those days as very special. She also enjoyed the Balaton Historical Museum very much, and the school once it is moved, will be right beside the museum and I am so happy that the building will be used to tell the story of early education in this area. I, too, was a teacher, but never did I attend or teach in a rural school. I am a little sorry that I never had that experience,” said Schwanebeck.

“The Balaton Historical Society is very excited about the gift of the school, and funds are being raised to complete the move as soon as possible and that will be the fourth time the school has been moved. The museum is located on Second Street in Balaton in a 100-plus-year building and is open Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning and anytime by appointment. Call 507-828-4938, we welcome any size group or individuals. We have a lot of school memorabilia as well as military, we are expecting a lot of people to come through and enjoy it on July 4 when Balaton celebrates their Fun Fest Week,” said Mattson.

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