Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Revisiting & appreciating Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse August 18, 2021

Little Prairie School, rural Dundas, Minnesota. The date on the building conflicts with the date on an on-site memorial and I don’t know why. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

MANY YEARS HAVE PASSED since Randy and I stopped at the Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse, rural Dundas. But on a recent weekend afternoon, we picnicked on the school grounds, next to a cornfield and a stone’s throw away from a vintage outhouse.

We ate our picnic lunch here. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I embraced this rural Bridgewater Township setting as I ate my sandwich and watched the occasional vehicle fly by on paved Rice County Road 8. Mostly, though, quiet prevailed.

Little Prairie United Methodist Church, repaired following a damaging tornado several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

When I finished my lunch, I grabbed my camera to document the country school and more, including Little Prairie United Methodist Church just across the road. Last visit, the then-pastor toured us through the church and then unlocked the schoolhouse. This time, I had to settle for peering through a school window.

A paver honors Little Prairie founders, the Emerys. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Little Prairie—a name that resonates with my prairie roots—was settled in 1855 when Jacob and Eliza Emery homesteaded here. He’s noted as the church founder on a paver at the Little Prairie Community Memorial, new since our last visit. Emery, as history goes, cut a 3-mile track through the Big Woods to find this 60-acre prairie. Little Prairie.

A memorial honors the people of Little Prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Among the “farmer” pavers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Students remembered. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

A study of the memorial pavers reveals names of early settlers, farmers, teachers, families and others with connections to this prairie place. History imprinted upon stone.

I pushed Randy briefly on the merry-go-round, Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Beyond that, when I let this place speak to me, I could hear the voices of children as they played tag on the playground. Or circled on the aged merry-go-round. Screams. Laughter. Joy. Maybe even pleas to stop the dizziness.

The mud scraper. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear, too, the scraping of shoes on the mud scraper bolted to cement steps outside the front doors.

A necessity at rural schools, the water pump. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear the creak of the water pump handle moving up and down, up and down.

The outhouse has been painted since the last time I was here and a screen added.

I could hear the bang of the outhouse door.

A view inside the classroom through a window. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Locked doors kept me from accessing the school. But I imagined the determined voice of a teacher, the recitation of spelling words, the scratch of chalk upon slate, the clomp of shoes upon wooden floor…

A back view of the simple country schoolhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

This schoolhouse, built in 1858, holds no personal meaning to me. Yet, I cherish it. Within these walls, children learned. They flourished. They grew friendships and knowledge and, I expect, a deep appreciation for their community. This place. This Little Prairie.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Merry-go-round details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021.
Information on ordering and purchasing a memorial paver for $225 is available inside this mailbox on the schoolhouse steps. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

8 Responses to “Revisiting & appreciating Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse”

  1. Charles P Ziegler Says:

    Very interesting. I can vaguely recall a visit to the one-room schoolhouse that my father attended in Sheridan Township, Redwood County. This was in the early 1950s, and the schoolhouse was still in use.

    • I’m not familiar with that Redwood County rural school. But I’m glad you saw it before it vanished. My husband attended a one-room country school in St. Anthony, N.D., in the early 60s (before his family moved to MN).

  2. Susan Ready Says:

    your thoughtful musings evoked a lot of memories for those who have attended or visited one-room schoolhouses. It was so easy to imagine the everyday life of schoolchildren.

  3. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    I love one room school houses, This one is wonderful, I love all the photo’s, both of the exterior and interior. It reminds me of the little school building (similar in size) that sits near the newer elementary school that I attended in the country where I grew up. They use it now as a town hall. So many stories behind those walls

  4. Sandra Says:

    Mother and her 5 sisters were educated in a schoolhouse in the Deerfield Twp between Owatonna and Faribault, she never had more than a 10th gr. education from Owatonna. The youngest of the 6 was the only to graduate h.s. I’m sure the school bldg is long gone. I did quite a study of the development of MN school districts and the role these rural schools played in MN, I wish I’d interviewed her more about life when all classmates were cousins! It’s also nice some tv shows give life to the lives of students and teachers during that time….before busing to the city. This is enlightening http://www.mreavoice.org/school-districts/

    • I think we all wish we’d asked more questions, gathered more stories from our parents and other elders. I’m thankful you have some. My mom’s one-room school teacher now lives in the same nursing home as my mom.


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