Sibley County Historical Society has been collecting photographs and memories of teachers and students who attended the county’s country schools, including these reminisces from Willard Zarnott, who attended District 49 in Transit Township:
“Life was simple when we were young ... I had two sisters, Ruby and Pearl. We each had only had one pair of shoes. We wore them all day long no matter where we went. I helped with barn chores . . then on to school ... I wore those same shoes hunting skunks. The poor teacher and the rest of the classes had to put up with that awful smell.”
Sibley County’s era of one-room country schools lasted about 100 years. It began in 1854 at Henderson, which was then a young county seat town in the Minnesota Territory.
A log schoolhouse was erected not far from the riverboat landing on the west bank of the Minnesota River. The one-room building heralded the beginning of public education in Sibley County.
The Minnesota Territorial Council enacted legislation in 1849 that created a common school system.
In 1879, the federal government gave parcels of land throughout the country that were to be sold to benefit schools. Two sections of land were allotted in each township in Minnesota, where land then was considered of little value.
Sibley County’s records were destroyed by fire in October 1863, so no official record exists of organization of the first school districts. Other sources indicate that in the 1850s there were a few parent-organized schools in homes or log schoolhouses throughout the wooded east half of Sibley County.
When Minnesota was opened up in 1851 to settlers, they flocked in from the eastern states and European countries. Some of the settlers’ first churches were in neighborhood schoolhouses, which often doubled as community centers.
Parochial schools were first established in areas where the majority of settlers were German Lutheran.