Fitch Coulee School

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.

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6 Responses to Fitch Coulee School

  1. Glenn says:

    Our cousin Judy gave me permission to add this:

    Sid used to tag along with the older boys and so, when we was just 5 and 2 months old the teacher let him into first grade. So, Sid graduated from high school at age 16 and was only 5 foot 6 inches or so!

    I remember the Fitch Coulee school vividly. I remember Ole and I played “school”, putting on plays, writing on the blackboard, etc. My last memory is from 3rd grade and doing multiplication on the blackboard with Ole and Steve Moe (a neighbor boy 2 years older than Ole and I). The basement had one long narrow room that was just held one long table and benches – must have been a lunchroom. I thought it “scary” as a kid.

    I expect Odell’s kids have lots of memories of the school.

    • Brian Borreson says:

      Brian has some memories of the old school… Last teacher at the Fitch Coulee School was Mabel Anaas, lived over the hill in Sjuggerud Coulee, maybe 3 miles to the west.
      The boys would have to stay inside ( miss recess ) if they were caught speaking Norwegian, they had to learn a second language (in other words English)
      The school house still exists today, it was moved in the early to mid 60’s to Clark Moe’s farm, 1/4 mile to the east of the farm, pulled by a bulldozer rolled on telephone poles,moving the school was done by, Odell, Clark and the town of Pigeon crew. It now stands as a converted garage, and has a basement as well. Greg, Dale, and Brian played in the old school before it was moved, the old one room school house seemed very large in their eyes.
      Thank you Glen for all the work on this Borreson Blog, it’s very interesting and informative, keep up the great work.

  2. Glenn says:

    Thanks for the info you added about the school, Brian, it was new to me. Nice to know the old building still exists. And I know what you mean about the old one room school seeming large: a few places impressively large in my own youth have shrunk to a degree I never would have imagined!

  3. Lesley says:

    Yes, Glenn you were correct that I went to first grade in the Fitch Coulee School. I remember sitting behind the piano and coloring the lines of my big tablet all those wonderful colors from a box of crayons. The back of the piano had beautiful wooden columns. I also remember being shown where the hands of the pendulium clock would be when it was time to go home. Dad gave me a piggy back ride to school one very snowy day! My family moved to Big Slough at the end of first grade, so when we moved back to the farm, I attended Fuller Coulee School one year and then all of us kids went to Pigeon Grade School.
    There was an Estenson Sisters reunion at Fitch Coulee School one time. I tripped on the basement stairs and slid to the bottom into the big kitchen/lunchroom. That is the moment when I met Shirley, Richard Cook’s fiance from Chicago. (About 1956)
    I remember the sound of the chain on the flag pole all the years it stood empty.

    • Glenn says:

      What a great way to be introduced to Shirley!! And I hadn’t realized your family lived in Big Slough for a bit. Your mention of the Cooks leads me to think of the times “the home farm” where you grew up also served as a place of vacation or homecoming for family members who’d loved to “the big city” or other distant place.

  4. Sharon Halama says:

    Yes We have the old Fitch Coulee School on our property. When we cleaned it out we found several graduation pictures of people who must have graduated from the school. Greg & I gave these pictures to Clark Moe in hopes that he would give them to a historical place. In the building there is several little divided sections not sure if they are part of the original school or not?
    Sharon Halama

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