CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The old Le Grand Public School building photographed sometime after its completion in 1871.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a Times-Republican Education Corner series on some of the area's rural schools. The series will look at the history and formation of the schools, as well as the challenges they face in modern times.
More than a century has passed since the first white settlers arrived in present-day Marshall County. When they arrived, they began to lay the most important foundations of modern cities: roads, houses, shops, churches, and schools.
Since then, a lot has changed in education in the state. Three rural school districts in the county - West Marshall, East Marshall and Green Mountain-Garwin - each have a unique history. History also shows some shared patterns across districts.
Past actions, modern effects
Each of West Marshall, East Marshall, and Green Mountain-Garwin counties has its own origin story. While unique in their own way, clear patterns also emerge when it comes to the timing of mergers between schools and between small schools.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - People and horse-drawn carriages pose outside the St. Anthony Consolidated School building, which opened in 1913 and closed in 1957. The building has since been destroyed.
As suggested in the book "The Continuing History of Marshall County Iowa, 1997," residents of some communities that lost students or entire school buildings to consolidation opposed merging into larger districts.
“Small town people, like us … thought consolidation probably wasn't good for us because we were going to lose our school,” said Julie Long, a 34-year-old Marshalltown Schools teacher and current Green Mountain-Garwin substitute teacher. "There are pros and cons, like with everything."
Lang said he grew up in Van Cleve, east of Melbourne. That small town was eventually added to the Marshalltown School District, and the local building was closed.
Lang said Van Cleve, like some communities in the West Marshall, East Marshall and GMG school districts, was unable to meet the education and facilities needs the state requires for student success.
She said the first wave of consolidation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the result of rural schools working together. In the 1940s and beyond, consolidation caused schools in smaller cities to lose out to those in larger cities, such as the State Center, Le Grand, and, in their case, Marshalltown.
Gary Krob of the Iowa State Library State Data Center said the state's population experienced steady growth during those periods.
"Iowa's population as a whole has always had slow and steady population growth," he said, noting that this was before the farm crisis of the 1980s.
He said international immigration from places like Germany and Ireland was key to the population boom of the early and mid-20th century, just as it is today. The arrival of the baby boom generation also contributed to the growth of the state's population.
Krob said that sometimes it can be difficult to look at historical population data because data collection methods were different than today.
Today, the black and gold of the West Marshall Community School District includes the State Center, where all of its educational buildings are located, as well as Melbourne, Rhodes, St. Anthony, Clemons, and LaMoille.
The modern district was created in 1962 after elections were held to consolidate several independent area districts in West Marshall, according to "Continuing History."
The first small school buildings appeared in the district in the 1860s at Rhodes and State Center. LaMoille followed in 1870. Then, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a first wave of school consolidation began.
The Rhodes Consolidated Schools began in 1883, combining students from various school buildings in the area. The same thing happened at State Center in 1909 and at LaMoille and Melbourne around 1914-1915, according to Continuing History.
That was the way things were in western Marshall County for a few decades. A new wave of consolidation occurred in the post-World War II period. Minerva Consolidated School combined with State Center in 1945, and LaMoille followed suit in 1955. Rhodes and State Center merged in 1961, just before West Marshall's final formation in 1962.
The formation of the current district did not immediately mean the end of local school buildings in the other cities. As the years passed and new educational additions at State Center emerged, other cities began to lose their school buildings.
The final blow came in 1979 with the closure of the Clemons School Building and in 1983 with the closure of the Melbourne School.
According to "Continuing History," there was discontent among some citizens in the smaller towns around State Center when it came to consolidation.
"Residents of Rhodes strongly opposed the closure of the (local school) because they expected a negative effect on the city, but it failed," he says.
On the other side of the county, purple and gold East Marshall Mustangs have emerged much more recently. That district currently serves the communities of Le Grand, Gilman, Laurel, Quarry, Dillon, Dunbar, and Ferguson.
East Marshall was founded in 1992, according to 'Continuing History'. Before that, there were a few waves of consolidation.
In the mid-1850s, the first school was founded at Le Grand. By 1871, it was clear that more student space was needed, so a two-story brick schoolhouse was built on the northeast side of town.
A three-story building was built in 1916 to house even more students, but it burned down sometime in the next seven years. A replacement building was built and opened in 1924 and continues to serve as part of East Marshall High School.
As with West Marshall, some communities lost schools due to consolidation. The Dillon School closed in 1955, and the nearby Rock Valley School lasted from 1862 to 1954.
Ferguson initially had a two-room schoolhouse before merging with nearby schools in 1915. Ferguson's last graduating class was in 1960, and after that the school for third- and fourth-grade students was at Le Grand-Dunbar -Ferguson. (LDF) school district and later East Marshall. Ferguson's school was also closed in the 2010s.
There was a consolidated school at Dunbar from 1922-1958. The building continued to serve fourth through sixth grade students for the LDF District for some time before closing.
The cities of Laurel and Gilman continue to serve East Marshall elementary and high school students, respectively. Laurel saw a new brick school building built in 1920 and a new high school in 1951.
The change came for Laurel in 1963 when it was consolidated with Gilman School and part of Jasper County's Mariposa Township to form the South East Marshall County District (SEMCO). That district was combined with the LDF for a few years until East Marshall was created in 1992.
The first school in Gilman lasted from the 1870s until 1908, when a fire burned it down. The following year the building was replaced and has been renovated ever since. It is the current building of East Marshall High School.
Garwin of Green Mountain
The GMG School District spans eastern Marshall County and western Tama County. Green Mountain, that small community northeast of Marshalltown, experienced many of the same pressures as other Marshall County towns during the 19th and 20th centuries.
According to Continuing History, prior to 1921, students in the Green Mountain area attended a one-room school slightly north of the school's current location.
It was in September of that year that voters decided to approve the creation of the Green Mountain Independent School District. That decision followed two previous failed attempts to create the district.
In 1952 an important decision was made that allowed the construction of a building for students in grades four through six and the office of the superintendent for $120,000.
According to "Continuing History," things remained fairly stable for the small-town school in the decades that followed. Then, in 1992, the present Green Mountain-Garwin district was formed when the schools in the two communities were merged "after much discussion."
Today, Green Mountain houses the district's elementary students through sixth grade, while Garwin is home to the middle and high school.
From one- and two-room schools on the plains in the early 20th century to multi-story, high-rise school campuses today, Marshall County's rural schools continue to change with time.
- CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: The old Le Grand Public School building photographed sometime after its completion in 1871.
- CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: People and horse-drawn carriages pose outside the St. Anthony Consolidated School building, which opened in 1913 and closed in 1957. The building has since been destroyed.
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Overview of Marshall County School District
Marshall County School District contains 9 schools and 2,740 students. The district's minority enrollment is 60%.
Marshall County contains 15 schools and 5,758 students. The district's minority enrollment is 30%.