The Town of Porter once had nine rural one-room schools in operation, full of kids. Now there are none.
These nine 19th -century schoolhouses were scattered around the township on land usually donated by the farmer-owner—four in the north, two in the center, three in the south— all serving the growing population of this northwestern Rock County township for over a hundred years.
The nine schools included: Cooksville, Eagle, Forest Academy, Lineau, Miller, Stebbinsville, Stevens, White Star, and Wilder schools. Of these, seven remain standing: Stebbinsville School burned down in 1942 and White Star School was demolished.
Several began life as log buildings in the 1840s-50s, later replaced by wooden frame structures or brick buildings. A few old photographs exist, but historical records of the schools, for the most part, seem to have disappeared.
|Forest Academy Schoolhouse today|
A few anecdotes survive. The Forest Academy School began life as the Ball Tavern School built c.1865 near the cemetery on Tolles Road and was moved to Wilder Road in 1879 and renamed Forest Academy because of the surrounding trees. This early structure was destroyed by fire in 1932, when the present school was built; electricity arrived in 1941.
|Eagle Schoolhouse today|
The present Eagle School was built in 1868 and got its name from the hand-carved eagle over the doorway.
|Wilder Schoolhouse, now Porter Town Hall|
The Wilder School began life as a log structure; the present brick school was purchased by the Town of Porter to serve as its Town Hall in 1962.
The Cooksville School began early life as a log structure in the 1840s, replaced by a brick building on the Public Square about 1850. But because of structural problems and its small size, it was replaced in 1886 by the present wooden frame building, with two entry doors, one for boys and one for girls.
Salaries for school teachers at most schools began at $2.00 per week for a school term of five months and increased in the 1860s to about $30 a month with board for the “one who wields the ruler.” In the 1860s and 1870s wages varied from about $30 a month for the four-month summer term to about $50 a month for the four-month winter term. Teachers came and went, moved on, got married—or maybe found better-paying jobs. In Cooksville, records indicate a different teacher was hired for almost every term from the 1850s to the 1890s.
The population of Porter Township had grown to 1165 by 1855. (It is presently about 925.) School enrollments varied from about 30 to 60 or more students. Cooksville’s school had 65 pupils in 1870, 68 in 1871, and 46 in 1882. A photograph of the old brick Cooksville Schoolhouse ca.1880 shows about 55 pupils posed in front; a ca.1890 photo has 34 students all dressed up and all wearing hats posed in front of the new1886 Cooksville Schoolhouse; a 1901 photograph has 28 students; and a ca.1924 photo shows 32 in attendance at Cooksville. A 1905 photograph of the Wilder School depicts 28 students with their teacher. By the 1950s, records indicate school enrollments varied from 19 to 28 students in each of the eight existing schools.
One student, Gordon Stearns, who attended Lineau School beginning in 1947, and became a teacher himself, wrote: “I’m still amazed at how they (teachers) could plan for 8 grades of reading, arithmetic, social studies, grammar, penmanship, art, music, history, etc., each day while making room for a Xmas program, a Mother’s Day program, a Turkey Day program, a yard “clean-up” day in the fall, and the ongoing quest to win a trophy for “play day” each spring against the other Porter schools…oh, and prepare, each month, for a mother’s club meeting.”
But in 1961, the one-room rural schools ceased their existence. The school districts were consolidated into fewer, larger districts that contained higher-level high schools. The Town of Porter students went to grade schools in Stoughton, Edgerton and Evansville, ending the 120-year history of Porter’s rural one-room schools.
|Cooksville Schoolhouse with Wisconsin Historical Marker|
Most of the old schools were converted to residences at the time. But the Cooksville School became the Cooksville Community Center in 1962, preserved and owned by community members and used for social and entertainment purposes, and the Wilder School became the Porter Town Hall on Wilder Road.
The history of Cooksville’s school has been well-documented, and the schoolhouse has always served an important community function, including its first role in children’s education. But it also housed church services before a church was built in the village, with Thomas Morgan bringing his little melodeon across the street from his house for the musical portions of Sunday services. The school also was the scene of many social functions and the venue for many types of entertainments, theatricals, debates and other public gatherings in the village in the 19th and 20th and on into the 21st centuries
Mostly, the old Cooksville School served as a schoolhouse, of course. One very special event at the school— fondly remembered— was “Play Day.”
(To be continued: “Play Day at the Cooksville School”)
[Thanks to Gordon Stearns for sharing his school-days memory.]