CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The old Le Grand Public School building, taken after completion in 1871.
Editor's note: This is the first part of a Times-Republican Education Corner series about some of the area's rural schools. The series deals with the history and origins of schools, as well as the challenges they face in modern times.
It has been more than a century since the first white settlers came to present-day Marshall County. When they arrived, they began laying the most important foundations of modern cities: roads, houses, shops, churches and schools.
Since then, a lot has changed in education in the country. The county's three rural school districts—West Marshall, East Marshall, and Green Mountain-Garwin—each has a unique history. History also shows some patterns that are common in provinces.
Past actions, contemporary influences
West Marshall, East Marshall, and Green Mountain-Garwin counties each have their own origin story. While unique in their own way, there are also clear patterns that emerge when it comes to the timing of small school mergers.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - People and horse-drawn carriages pose in front of the Consolidated School of St. Ante building, which opened in 1913 and closed in 1957. The building has since been destroyed.
As accounts in the book "The Continuing History of Marshall County Iowa, 1997" suggest, residents of some communities who lost students or entire school buildings to consolidation opposed merging into larger districts.
"Small town folks like us ... thought the consolidation probably wasn't good for us because we were going to lose the school," said 34-year-old Marshalltown schoolteacher and current Green Mountain-Garwin substitute teacher Julie Lang. "As with anything, there are pros and cons."
Lang said she grew up in Van Cleve, east of Melbourne. The town was eventually added to the Marshalltown School District and the local building closed.
Lang said Van Cleve, like some communities in the West Marshall, East Marshall and GMG school districts, cannot meet the education and space needs the state requires for student success.
She said the first wave of consolidation in the late 1800s and early 1900s was a result of the consolidation of rural schools. During the 1940s and beyond, she said, schools in smaller towns lost out to those in larger cities, such as State Center, Le Grand and, in her case, Marshalltown.
Gary Krob of the Iowa State Library's State Data Center said the state's population experienced steady growth during those periods.
"The population of Iowa in general has always had slow and steady population growth," he said, noting that this was before the agricultural crisis of the 1980s.
He said international immigration from places like Germany and Ireland was key to that early to mid-20th century population boom as it is today. The arrival of the baby boom generation also contributed to the growth of the state's population.
Krob said it can sometimes be difficult to look at historical population data because the methods of gathering information were different than they are today.
Today, the Black and Gold West Marshall School District includes State Center, where all of its educational buildings are located, as well as Melbourne, Rhodes, St. Anthony, Clemons, and LaMoille.
The modern district was created in 1962 after an election held to consolidate several independent districts into West Marshall, according to "Continuing History."
The first small school buildings appeared in the district in the 1860s in Rhodes and State Center. LaMoille followed in 1870. Then the first wave of school consolidation began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Rhodes Consolidated Schools began in 1883 and combined students in several district schools. The same thing happened at State Center in 1909 and in LaMoille and Melbourne around 1914-1915, according to Continuing History.
That's how it went for decades in western Marshall County. The second wave of consolidation came in the post-World War II period. Minerva Consolidated School merged with State Center in 1945, and LaMoille did the same in 1955. Rhodes and State Center merged in 1961, shortly before the eventual formation of West Marshall in 1962.
The formation of the current district did not immediately mean the end of local school buildings in other cities. As the years passed and new educational additions appeared at the State Center, other cities began to lose their school buildings.
The final blow came in 1979 with the closure of the Clemons school building and in 1983 with the closure of the Melbourne school.
According to "Continuing History," there was discontent among some citizens in the smaller towns around State Center when it came to consolidation.
"The residents of Rhodes strongly opposed the closure (of the local school) as they foresaw a negative impact on the town, but they failed," it said.
On the other side of the county, purple and gold East Marshall Mustangs have appeared more recently. That district currently serves the communities of Le Grand, Gilman, Laurel, Quarry, Dillon, Dunbar, and Ferguson.
East Marshall was founded in 1992, according to "Continuing History". Before that, there were a few waves of consolidation.
In the mid-1850s, the first school was founded in Le Grand. In 1871 it became clear that a larger space for students was needed, so a two-story brick building was built on the northeast side of town.
The three-story building was built in 1916 to house even more students, but burned down seven years later. A replacement building was constructed and opened in 1924 and continues to serve as part of East Marshall High School.
As with West Marshall, some communities lost schools due to consolidation. The Dillon School closed in 1955 and the nearby Rock Valley School ran from 1862-1954.
Ferguson initially had a two-room schoolhouse before consolidating with nearby schools in 1915. The last graduating class in Ferguson was in 1960, and after that was the school for third and fourth graders in the Le Grand-Dunbar-Ferguson (LDF) school district. and later East Marshall. Ferguson's school was also closed in the 2010s.
There was a Consolidated School in Dunbar from 1922 to 1958. The building served the LDF District's fourth through sixth graders for a time before closing.
The cities of Laurel and Gilman continue to serve East Marshall elementary and high school students. Laurel saw a new brick school building in 1920 and a new high school was built in 1951.
Change came for Laurel in 1963 when it consolidated with Gilman School and part of Jasper County's Mariposa Township to form the South East Marshall County District (SEMCO). That district merged with the LDF for several years until East Marshall was formed in 1992.
The first schoolhouse in Gilman lasted from the 1870s until 1908 when it was destroyed by fire. The building was replaced the following year and has since been renovated. It is the current East Marshall High School building.
Green Mountain Garwin
The GMG School District stretches between eastern Marshall County and western Tama County. Green Mountain, that small community northeast of Marshalltown, experienced many of the same pressures as other Marshall County towns during the 19th and 20th centuries.
According to "Continuing History," prior to 1921, students in the Green Mountain area attended a one-room schoolhouse slightly north of the school's current location.
In September of that year, voters voted to approve the creation of the Green Mountain Independent School District. That decision followed two previous failed attempts to create a district.
In 1952, a major resolution was passed authorizing the construction of a building for fourth through sixth grade students and a principal's office for $120,000.
According to "Continuing History," things remained fairly stable for the small-town school over the following decades. Then, in 1992, the current Green Mountain-Garwin District was formed when the two communities' schools merged "after much discussion."
Today, Green Mountain houses the district's elementary through sixth grade students, while Garwin is home to the junior/senior high school.
From one- and two-room schoolhouses on the plains in the early 1900s to school campuses and multi-story buildings today, Marshall County's rural schools continue to change over time.
- PHOTO CONTRIBUTION - The old Le Grand Public School building, taken after completion in 1871.
- CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - People and horse-drawn carriages pose in front of the Consolidated School of St. Ante building, which opened in 1913 and closed in 1957. The building has since been destroyed.
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