The Early Years of Minnesota Rural School District # 37




District # 37; What I Remember and Know (?) About It

 by Dorothy (Cutler) Wade, daughter of May Wright:

Part of this is from my own memory and records, and some from an article which Marion (Mrs. Burton) Anderson wrote for the Ann Lake Sportsmen's Club in 1984, and later published in a booklet for the club. Her article included some information I had given her about the Wrights and the Cutlers in Ann Lake.  Most of the specific dates she got from courthouse records.  I'm including some stuff about the background for District 37. 

In July, 1904 the Kanabec County Commissioners voted to divide Knife Lake township into Knife Lake and Ann Lake townships. Ann Lake would contain ore than 40 square miles.  It was officially describes as Township 40, Range 25. 

In May, 1904 Erastus B. Wright moved from South Dakota. He rented a box car to move his livestock, chickens, horses, dog and household furnishings.  He and his 17-year-old son, Ralph, rode with it all to care for the animals, etc.  Mrs. Wright (Jane or Jenny) and daughter, May, had seats in passenger cars.  Another daughter, Ethel, cam a bit later, when her school term ended.

They moved onto a farm about half a mile north of the location where the District 37 schoolhouse was later built.  Wright had come the previous year and built a barn and cabin.

Among the people already living in that area were the A.M. Bergren family, the  J. W. Gruver family, and Rotmark, Johnson, Estrom, and Hallin families. Brothers, Ben (J. B.) Johnson and Carl (Casey) Johnson, also came in 1904.  Carl bought 70 acres; one acre of the 80 acre plot was set aside for a school.  Ben had 80 acres just north of the Cutler farm.

In 1902 parents had organized District # 37 for the southern portion of Ann Lake township.  In 1916 District # 37 was divided into to districts; the western part became District # 60, the Cooper or Gruver school.

The first District # 37 school was a little tar-paper shack at the intersection of Highway 47 and County Road 26, about a mile north of the lake.  May Wright taught the first term there three months in early 1905. (There was not enough money for a longer term.)  She was paid $35 a month. She had four pupils: her brother, Ralph, a boy named Zeta Bright, and Edgar & Laura Bergren.  Thereafter both May and Ethel Wright taught at various rural schools in Knife Lake, Comfort, Hillman & Southfork communities, in Lewis Lake and at the Bronson school.

Before District # 37 opened, Edgar Bergren had lived with relatives elsewhere to go to school.  Laura had never been in school before.  Later several Bergren boys attended, and Iona, the youngest of the family, was my best friend, and later my roommate in Mora High School.  Laura's daughters, Helen and Thelma, attended District 37, also known as "Riverside School", as did my brothers, Chester, Ralph and Burton, and my sister Eleanor Cutler.  I don't think Eleanor and I ever shared our school days (at Riverside), as I eventually skipped a couple of grades and graduated before she started school.  I never attended the original little tar-paper covered school.  I don't remember the building I was in, but I do recall when the big new building was built in the 1920's.  It was no longer a "one-room school" because it included a "wood room" for the firewood and a small "library".

I do not remember my earliest teachers, but then there was Mrs. Jepson, who had twins, Vera and Verna (later Mrs. Joe Tyler), who started school during her first year at Riverside. During my last year there, the teacher was Ester Parr whose family lived about half a mile south of the original little school.  I don't know whether she ever attended that.

During my years at Riverside, the nearby Little Ann River was our favorite entertainment for noon hours. We waded, played around the bridge, learned to skate there in winter. Casey Johnson, whose little house was about a block west of the school, was very popular with the kinds--we loved to visit him. In the schoolyard were a well and pump in the yard and two little "outhouses" on the back of the lot.  I remember we often played "Anty-I-Over" during recess.  The new school building was almost too high for throwing the ball over. 

The life of a rural school teacher  was no picnic.  Unless she happened to be teaching in her home district, she had to board with a nearby family, whether everyone liked it or not. She probably had to walk to school, whatever the weather, and build a fire in the big heater in the winter (that's where the indoor "woodshed" helped).  Sometimes she had to share a room--or a bed--with the family where she boarded.  At one place where Mom taught, she and a young daughter shared an attic room, accessible only by ladder.

On the weekends she would have to stay with the family unless she could catch a ride to town or neighbors.  In some cases she had to endure dirty houses, bad food, etc.

The teacher had to be nurse for the inevitable bumps and bruises or upset stomachs (no handy Band-Aids then).  One winter my bother Chester was sledding on the hill east of the river.  He veered into a barbed-wire fence and got a bloody gash on his jaw, dangerously close to cutting his throat.  The teacher cared for him, sent someone to the nearest telephone, so Dad could take him to town to the doctor to sew him up.

Mom seemed to cope pretty well with the boarding families. She always loved kids, and years later she remembered all the children whose homes she had shared. Many aspects of her early life closely resembled those described in "The Little House on the Prairie" series (the books, not the TV).  She was born in Dakota Territory on January 28, 1882 near De Smet, South Dakota.  Laura Ingalls, author of those books, got her teaching certificate in Kingsbury County when she was 15; Mom got hers at the same place about a dozen years later, when she was 17, had just graduated from the 8th grad.  When she was younger schools were not always available--no taxes were coming in from homesteads or Indian lands.  The family had sent her to live with relatives in Milwaukee for a year where she completed the 5th and 6th grades.  Later, after some teaching experience, she lived with friends in Watertown, South Dakota and had a year of high school.  Then while she and Ethel taught school, they attended several summer-school sessions at "St. Cloud Normal School" teachers college in order to keep their teaching certificates up-to-date.  (May's first teaching job was for 3 months; she was paid $35.00 in gold for the term.)  

Sophia Johnson also was one of the early teachers in District 37. She boarded with the Wrights (May was teaching  elsewhere then), and she married George Cutler in 1916 (our Aunt Sophie)

The Cooper School, District # 60, was west of highway 47 and south of Ann Lake, But was closed sooner because of few pupils, some of whom were already going to Ogilvie schools. The Little Ann School, District # 59, was separated from District 37 in 1915.  It closed in the 1950's.



  Photo courtesy of Dorothy Wade (Cutler)

Original District # 37 Schoolhouse
Ann Lake Township, Kanabec County, Minnesota

First used in 1905



  Photo courtesy of Dorothy Wade (Cutler)

May Wright, first school teacher at District # 37 in 1905



  Photo courtesy of Dorothy Wade (Cutler)

District # 37 Pupils and Teacher, Ester Parr, at the End of the School Year, May 1925

Front Row: Ralph Cuter, Philip Horne, Maxine Andrus, Thea Horne, Thelma Bryngelson, Alice Flatum
Back Row: Evelyn Flatum, Helen Byngelson, Keith Andrus, Dorothy Cutler, Roy Johnson, Ester Parr (teacher), Chester Cutler, Lloyd Andrus, Arden Flatum, Robert Horne?, and Roger Andrus



  Photo courtesy of Dorothy Wade (Cutler)

May Wright, Leta (Mrs. Frank) Archer, Sophia Johnson & Ethel Wright, 1912

May Wright, Sophia Johnson and Ethel Wright were all teachers at District # 37 in its early years.