Story City to host conference focused on historic country schools

Ronna Faaborg Staff Writer
Story City Museum Director Kate Feil poses by a Carriage House Museum display about local one-room schoolhouses. Photo by Ronna Faaborg

The Story City Historical Society is hosting the 20th annual Iowa Country Schools Preservation Conference on Oct. 11 and 12.

If your ancestors grew up in Iowa, it’s likely that your grandparents and great-grandparents — maybe even your parents — were taught in a one-room country school like the Sheldahl school, which is now located in Story City and is part of the community’s network of museums. Or even in a two-room country school, like the building that is now the Roland Museum.

“At one time, there were more than 12,000 country schools in Iowa,” said Kate Feil, the director of Story City’s museums. “There were nine in Lafayette Township, and only one of those buildings was not saved.”

Preserved country schools have a variety of purposes, ranging from homes and garages to barns and museums.

“Pioneers moved here, and building schools was one of the first things they did,” Feil said. “They put a big priority on education.”

Preserving that heritage is important, she said, and the conference that will be held in Story City is one step in the process of making sure that preservation happens.

Friday, Oct. 11, will be a full day of programs at Fairview Lodge in Story City. The cost is $30. There will be presentations about topics such as using tourism to promote preservation, researching the history of country schools that have moved into Story City, creating maps to develop rural heritage tourism and using historical aerial maps from the Iowa Department of Transportation to locale country schools township by township.

There will be a silent auction of things related to country schooling, such as bells, slate boards, books, flags and paintings. The proceeds from the silent auction will be used to fund mini-grants through Preservation Iowa to help groups and individuals wishing to preserve country school buildings and programs.

Friday night at 7 p.m., there will be a triple feature at the Story Theater. For $5 admission, the audience will see “The Amish Incident in Iowa that Changed Education in America,” “Roll Call on the Prairie: A collection of oral stories recalling rural school life and times,” and “Iowa’s Unsung Prairie Transformation to Farms and One-Room Schools 1870-1900.”

A tour will be conducted on Saturday, Oct. 12, for a cost of $14. The group will visit the two-room school in Roland, the Corn Mural at the Ames Post Office, the Ames Historical Society, Hoggatt School in Ames, and then the apple orchard and one-room school in Cambridge.

For more information, email or visit the Story City Historical Society’s page on Facebook.