History of Reed School

Reed School teacher, Mrs. Orvilla Selves Zille, and her 17 students posing for a photograph in the spring of 1947, Image ID WHI 45011.

Reed School teacher, Mrs. Orvilla Selves Zille, and her 17 students posing for a photograph in the spring of 1947, Image ID WHI 45011.


Before 1960 most rural Wisconsin kids were educated in a one-room school like Reed School. One-room education reflects a less mobile, more rural time in our history. The wide diversity of ages provided opportunities for older students to help their younger peers, which is an attribute that today's schools find desirable, but difficult to achieve.

Reed School, built in 1915, served as a one-room country school through 1951. It provided a first- through eighth-grade education with only one teacher. The school is typical of the more than 6,000 one-room schools that dotted the landscape of rural Wisconsin.

Former Student's Memories Lead to Restoration

Gordon Smith's memories of attending first grade at Reed School in 1939 were the catalyst leading to its restoration and reopening as the Wisconsin Historical Society's 10th historic site. His cousins, Glenn Suckow and Linda Suckow Grottke, both attended Reed School and never missed one day in eight years.

Reed School.

Historic photo of Reed School.

Reed School during restoration.

Reed School during restoration.

Top-to-Bottom Restoration

Smith funded the top-to-bottom restoration of Reed School. He hired Isthmus Architecture Inc. of Madison to design the restoration and oversee construction. While the school could represent any time period between its construction in 1915 and its closure in 1951, the site planners decided to specifically interpret the 1939 school year.

In cooperation with the Wisconsin Historical Society, the firm completed preservation plans and drawings in less than four months. Twelve months of exterior work followed, resulting in a restored cedar shingle roof, windows, doors and masonry. Architects also designed a wheelchair-accessible entrance tucked into the back of the school.

Isthmus documented the interior finishes and wall colors, which workers replicated. Tin ceilings, plaster walls and woodwork regained their original luster as tradespeople discretely added modern mechanical, electrical and security systems. Original furnishings were restored, and appropriate period furnishings added, to re-create the appearance of Reed School in the 1940s.

Baseball Field and Outhouse Restored

Reed School opens as a Historic Site.

Reed School opens as a historic site.

As decades of overgrowth were removed, the original baseball field and outhouse were restored. In addition, a new composting toilet facility was added.

School Opens as a Historic Site in 2007

A gala celebration took place on June 10, 2007, to recognize Reed School as the first Wisconsin Historical Society historic site of the early 20th century.

Through the generosity of Gordon V. and Helen C. Smith Foundation of Potomac, Maryland, Reed School is again an educational institution — a re-created one-room school where today's students can experience a day in the life of a rural 1939 pupil.


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