Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A country school preserved in Millersburg October 3, 2010

MY HUSBAND THRILLS in talking about the coyotes at Chimney Butte School.

You have to admit that just the name of the rural North Dakota school, which Randy attended for 14 months in the 1960s, draws you in to listen.

His tale is short. One day Randy and his classmates couldn’t go outside for recess because of coyotes in the schoolyard. That’s it. Yet, the story deserves telling. How many men in their early 50s attended a country school? Furthermore, how many of those students encountered coyotes on a school day?

Preserving such memories is important. So is preserving the actual school building. Last Sunday I stepped inside a one-room Minnesota country school that has been restored and transformed into a museum. That’s nothing new, really. Old schoolhouses have also become township halls, private residences and businesses, although some have been abandoned and simply fallen into heaps of rotting wood.

Members of The Christdala Preservation Association are assuring that doesn’t happen to the District 20 Millersburg School in rural Rice County. The association has acquired the former schoolhouse and is transitioning it into a museum for the Millersburg community.

The 1881 Millersburg School is now a museum.

The old country school sits across the road from Boonie's restaurant and bar along Rice County Road 1.

Inside I discovered records and artifacts from the school and nearby Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church, historic photos, an old buggy, military memorabilia and more.

Mostly, though, I appreciated the care taken to restore the building. Gleaming wood floors made me want to push back the tables and chairs and host a square dance. These preservationists paid attention to detail, right down to the American flag and portrait of George Washington.

As this museum evolves, I expect, hope, that the preservation association will open the doors on a regular basis to the public. And I expect, hope, that those who gather there will exchange stories about their days in a country school, coyotes or not.

The refurbished wood floor shines under the wheels of an 1887 Michigan Buggy Company buggy which was taken apart and reassembled inside the schoolhouse museum.

At the front of the schoolroom hangs the American flag and a Presidential portrait below the period ceiling.

The 1889 Swedish bible used in worship services at Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church, located just down the road from the school.

A page from the 1889 Swedish bible.

Among the museum photos is this portrait of the Peter Gustafson family. Peter was among the founding members of Christdala. He was also the brother of Nicolaus Gustafson who was murdered by outlaw Cole Younger during an attempted 1876 bank raid in nearby Northfield. At the time of Nicolaus' death, the Millersburg Swedish community had no church or cemetery. Nicolaus' untimely death prompted the Swedes to form Christdala. Peter Gustafson's 18-year-old twin son, Eugene, died tragically in March 1905 when a log rolled forward on a wagon and crushed him. This information is published in The History of the Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church of Millersburg, Minnesota, written by B. Wayne Quist.

An old wooden pail rests inside a simple cupboard in a corner of the schoolhouse.

I spied this old piano stool tucked under a table. A museum visitor pulled the stool out and suggested perhaps naughty students sat on it in a corner.

Of all the historic photos I viewed in the museum, this one is my favorite. It's clear the boys really don't want to be there, with their mom's arms draped around them. But she appears to be a strong, determined woman.

How many stories could this old water pump, next to the school, tell?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


3 Responses to “A country school preserved in Millersburg”

  1. sartenada Says:

    I loved to read and to look all these photos from Millersburg’s school. Old wooden building has been renovated in a beautiful way. Old artifacts delighted my mind very much to admire. One interesting photo was from Swedish Bible. When I was a child I could easily read that “Gothic script”, nowadays it requires a little bit of effort. My wife has had to learn this style of font again when having a hobby called genealogy. Old texts are written in this font.

  2. In researching material to write a history of the country shools in Sibley County I came across this blog of yours from 2010. I don’t remember if I saw it before but I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed the photos and the article.

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