Elaine’s e-mail, especially about her father Edgar telling of skiing during recess, motivated me to get to the Fitch Coulee School. Like she said, those ski times probably doubled as physical education classes too – as if these farm kids needed more physical activity! My primary source for this post is a fascinating history of the 110 rural schools of Trempealeau County, Many and Memorable (ca. 1985). A one-page story was was included by Fitch Coulee School’s last teacher, Mabel Anaas.
The Fitch Coulee School was built 120 years ago, in 1891, by community volunteers using donated lumber. The school house lot was purchased for $8.00, according to clerk records. I would have guessed the purchase made from Elias Borresen, but in Homestead (page 30) Clara writes that “the Town of Pigeon School District No. 3 bought land for a school near Elias’ farm from Lars Weverstad.” (She wrote the date 1892, but I suspect it’s off a year.) In this new building just a “hop, skip, and jump” from the Borreson farm buildings, classes began that year in October with Mrs. A. J. Lamberson as the teacher. She taught for six months for $133 – and she brought her own bell! Wood costs for that year – one assumes for heating – were $5.00.
The school article mentions the Borresons a couple times. When Mrs. Lamberson arrived by horse from Moe Coulee to teach, “Emil Borreson put her horse in the barn for her, brought her dinner, and hitched up the horse again after school.” Again we read: “The Borresons were often called upon to call someone for the teacher, kill a snake, take a mouse out of a trap, and if a storm came up, the teacher always found a welcome at the Borreson house.”
Given the Fitch Coulee School existed from 1891-1952, I would assume that all ten children of Emil and Gina attended elementary school in that building. Changes came over that time. In 1899, the school year grew to seven months, by 1907 eight month, but not until 1937 was it nine months. In 1914 the first annual report was in English. According to the same article, a basement was added in 1926-1927. In 1948 all the students were Lutherans and at least part Norwegian.
Because the school’s closing date was 1952, I wonder if cousin Lesley attended it for a couple years. I remember walking through it one time as a kid, likely after its noble education days were past. My father (Garven) must have told me stories about it too, but only one has stayed with me. When I mentioned to Dad how close the school was to their house, he said, “Yes, it was so close that I could be milking cows when I heard the school bell start ringing, and by the time the ringing had stopped, I could be in school and seated at my desk.” I remember staring at him when he said that, and he kept a straight face.
All these old school houses echo with stories. I love to hear them. I’d also love to get a good photo too of Fitch Coulee School. In the meantime, the school building would be just to the left of the red brick house and back a bit on the photo at the head of this page. Maybe the proximity gives my father’s line more credibility.