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History of Reed School

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.

A Former Student Remembers Reed School

By Gordon V. Smith

We all have lifetime experiences, with some of the most vivid recollections being those that occurred in the formative grade school years. In the spring of 1939, my parents took a vacation and brought me to stay with my grandparents, Rudolph and Helena Suckow, who lived on Route 10 outside of Neillsville. For six weeks I attended the one-room Reed School as a first grader, having come from a large urban school in Gary, Indiana. The shift from the large school to the one-room Reed School could have been traumatic, but I was well received by the teacher and fellow students at Reed. I could mesh with my first-grade classmates, who probably numbered six. The fourth graders tended to bully us first graders, but the seventh and eighth graders were quite protective and became our heroes. My cousin, Glen Suckow, was a classmate and we walked to school together. And then, after school, who wouldn’t like to come home to grandma’s? It was an enriching experience and, having lived on the East Coast most of my life, I have never found anyone else who ever had a one-room school experience!

With those memories and that unique experience in mind, while visiting my cousins, Linda Suckow Grottke and Ardith Poppe, both of Clark County, I parked in front of the Reed School to recall memories. This included the exact spot outside where the teacher took me aside for a firm lecture on good behavior. Perhaps stimulated by the “good behavior lecture,” the thought entered my mind that Reed School might well be preserved, since it was in good condition and could serve to re-create the one-room school experience for current and future generations.

Our family foundation bought the school, contacted the Wisconsin Historical Society, and has worked with their staff in restoring the school. We agreed that a fourth grade program allowing students to visit the school for a one-day experience, including outhouses, would be stimulating, educational and hopefully memorable for them. To accomplish this, our foundation is funding an endowment to support this program and ensure the continued first-class maintenance of Reed School.

My grandparents, cousins and the people of Neillsville who I interfaced with as a youngster all provided values that I carry with me today — hard work, high moral standards and an outreach to others. Restoring the Reed School is a means of paying back.

Meet the school’s teachers and students

Between 1915-1951, hundreds of Pleasant Ridge students received their education from outstanding teachers at Reed School.

One notably large class attended Reed School in the spring of 1939. Miss Norma Schmoll was in her second year of teaching when Reed School climbed to 33 students. Reed School had well over 30 students at several points throughout its history. Miss Schmoll continued teaching at the school for three more years. Only one other Reed School teacher taught longer.

Mrs. Orvilla Selves Zille, pictured above, taught at several one-room schools before arriving at Reed School in 1943. She taught at Reed School until 1948, and then continued teaching in the Neillsville area until her retirement. Many of her students, named below, were involved in the support and restoration of the school.

School was suspended after the 1950-51 school year when the number of students dropped to 10. Reed School students were transferred to schools nearby.

School consolidation following World War II all but eliminated these country schools from the state’s educational landscape. Despite considerable opposition from the community, the Reed School officially closed in 1954.

Founding of Reed School

Reed School was originally named Pleasant Ridge, which was the first school in the Neillsville area. The name reflected the beautiful views that inspired early farmers to settle there.

In 1878 the building was moved to land donated by Thomas and Lucretia Reed. In honor of this donation, the school was renamed Reed School.

In February 1915 Reed School burned to the ground. In response to the fire, the School Board of Grant Township District 1 authorized the construction of the current Reed School that same year.

The new concrete “brick” structure, measuring 30 feet x 50 feet, was relatively unusual for the World War I era. It boasted a concrete foundation and a wood-frame bell tower. The outside surface of each concrete brick consisted of a row of three low-relief pyramids.

The Pleasant Ridge community took pride in its new schoolhouse. Though it was a modern up-to-date building for its time, Reed School lacked some basic amenities we enjoy today. There was no indoor plumbing and the property never had a well. Students used two outhouses in the schoolyard, one for girls and the other for boys. Drinking water was carried in milk cans to the school from a neighboring farm. Electricity didn’t come until 1941.