The first school in Webster City, at that time called Newcastle, was held in a log cabin on Division Street, just two houses east of the Baptist Church, which is now the church parking lot. This school was built by Nathaniel Browning in 1854. The timbers were cut from the banks of the Boone River and hauled by oxen to the construction site. This building also served as a town meeting hall for a time. The Hamilton Freeman of July 23, 1857, which is only the third issue of the paper, mentions thefirst school: "We learn that a meeting will be held at our village school house, Thursday evening, to adopt measures for protection against the horse thieves who are now committing extensive depredations in this vicinity."
Nathan Hathway was the first teacher in this school. He also served in the band of settlers that marched to Spirit Lake at the time of the Indian massacre. In 1861, he enlisted in the Union Army and died at Gettysburg. His place in the school was taken by Miss Sue Hillock. She was also the only teacher for a time, until the growing school population required a second teacher. Miss Ella Elder attended a teacher's institute held in Webster City in 1862 and was granted a license to teach. She taught the lower grades; Miss Hillock taught the upper grades.
Soon this one room school was too small, so in June, 1859, W. S. Worthington was given a contract to erect a two-story brick building measuring 32 X 54 feet. Another portion on the front was three stories tall and measured 16 X 16 feet. The first floor was made into two rooms, one for the lower grades and one for the upper grammar school grades. The upper floor was used for town meetings, lectures, and social activities. This building was called the Union School and was built on the former site of the Washington Central building. The school books were announced for sale at the Estes Drug Store at the corner of Seneca and Bank Streets.
Mr. W. J. Covil was the first advanced teacher and Mr. D. D. Miracle was the second advanced teacher starting in 1862 when the first two grades of high school were added. Mr. Covil became superintendent but was replaced by Mr. Miracle in 1864 when Covil became ill. Mr. Miracle suggested that a fund be developed to secure a bell to hang in a bell tower. It was said that this bell came from the grounded steamboat that was sent up the Des Moines River to allow its owners to acquire land similar to the grants given to the railroad. This boat was the Charles Rogers. This bell hung in the tower of Union School, then at the Academy, next in the Old North Building, then moved to the Barracks School (which was some army barracks erected where Elm Park once was (now 7th/8th wing of the Middle School)), and finally to a specially constructed bell tower that sat between Washintgon Central and the Courthouse. After the high school moved to Lynx Avenue, the bell was placed in a tripod tower until it cracked. Then it was junked, and a new bell replaced it. By that time no one realized the historical significance of the old school bell.
In 1873, Ed Burgess became the principal of the school. He later passed the bar and practiced law. Then he became a trustee of the Kendall Young Library and served until his death as the first librarian.
Another school, a frame structure, was constructed on the east side of the river, just across the Bank Street bridge on Columbia Street. It was called the East Ward School, but was generally known as "Calamity School," named for the hill which residents called Calamity Hill due to the large number of accidents on the icy slope in the winter. This school consisted only of the first three grades and was taught for a time by Ella Burleson.
By 1875 a Dartmouth College graduate, Professor F. O. Baldwin, opened "The Academy," a private school in a two-story frame building measuring 25 X 40 which was located on the north side of Bank Street about two lots east of Fuller Hall. Bookkeeping , German, and Latin were featured in this school. The block south of The Academy was all swamp. A wooden bridge allowed pedestrians to get over the swamp. When Baldwin decided to quit the school business, the board decided to combine the Academy with the high school.
The first commencement took place in 1881 with four graduates, all girls. They were Nora Thompson, Anna Parker, Clara Willson, and Teresa Willson. The two Willson girls were the daughters of Sumler Willson. In 1882 the Union School was torn down and replaced with North Building. While North Building was under construction, classes were held in church basements, The Academy, Union Hall (which was located on Seneca near Bank Street.) The first floor of Union Hall housed the creamery. When the big churns cranked up the whole building shook. The upper floor was divided by partitions with the east half for the ninth and tenth grades, the west half for the eleventh and twelfth grades.
By 1890, the schools were becoming overcrowded again. The basement of the Methodist Church and some vacant stores were pressed into service as school rooms. This continued until D. M. Kelly became superintendent in 1909. He pressed for a new building for the high school which was built in 1912. Mr. Alexander Groves gave to the new school, the Lincoln building, a statue of Lincoln in memory of his son, Harry. The statue was placed on the third floor in the auditorium for several years on a green marble base. When the statue was moved outside to the northwest corner of Lincoln building it was placed on a different base. The old marble base was then given by Mrs. Alexander to the the D. A. R. for placement on the Kendall Young Library grounds to commemorate the Dragoon Trail. The Lincoln statue stands outside today on the east walk to the present high school building.
Old North was torn down and replaced by Central Building in 1922. The grade school north on Prospect was named North School and South Building, housing the grade school completed the arrangement of the three. In recent time, Central was renamed Washington Central, but the stone above the door still read "Central." This building was demolished when the new Middle School was constructed beginning in 1996. The Middle School opened in the fall of 1997 at a construction cost of about 7.5 million dollars.
In the 1960's the concept of the neighborhood schools was begun. This caused the construction of many schools for the elementary grades. These included Lawn Hill on the west, Sunset Heights, Pleasant View, Riverview, Elm Park and Hilltop. Today Lawn Hill houses the administration, Riverview serves as a day care center, Hilltop sits vacant. North Grade School was torn down when the Electrolux plant was expanded, and South building was torn down. The Lincoln Building was torn down in 1996 during the construction of the new Middle School- an addition to St. Thomas Aquinas Church now sits on the site.
First School Building
From the beginnings of Newcastle, school was conducted for the village children in the pioneer cabins. The Stanley cabin, located on the northwest corner of the present First and Superior Streets, was the first school mentioned in our history in 1851. The next year classes were held in the Wheeler cabin, whose location is lost to history. In 1856, the town realized the necessity of providing a school. A log cabin was constructed in the middle of the 500 block of what was later to be Division Street. It was used as a school, for church services, social activities, and a town hall. Nathan Hathway was hired as the first schoolteacher in Newcastle.
In 1857, Newcastle's name was changed to Webster City. The July 23, 1857 edition of the Hamilton Freeman reported "We learn that a meeting will be held in our village school house, Thursday evening, to adopt measures for protection against horse thieves…"
This one-room school was not large enough to accommodate the growing community. In June, 1859, the school board let a contract to W. S. Worthington to build a new school house. The building was to be completed in 1861. In the meantime the old log school continued to serve the educational purposes.Specifications for the new structure, pictured in this article, included a brick building, two stories high, and measuring 32 X 54 feet. Each first floor classroom measured 32 x 27 feet. Two new teachers, John A. Cooper and his wife Laura, were hired to operate the school. Mr. Cooper taught the advanced pupils in the south room, and Mrs. Cooper taught the primary department in the north room. The second floor was one large assembly room. This building was located on the site later occupied by North High School from 1882 to 1922 and by Central (later named Washington Central) from 1922 to 1998, and finally by the Webster City Middle School today. John Cooper was paid $105 for the year and his wife, Laura, received only $60 for her salary. (Not many in Webster City today would be content with that salary.)
The second floor of the building was not equipped for classrooms but was used for town meetings, social gatherings, and an assembly hall. A front portion which was 16 X 16 feet enclosed the stairs to the second floor room and to a third floor, which was located in only this portion of the building and housed the school offices and later housed the first school bell.
Classes in this building commenced in the winter of 1861-62. The February 1, 1862, Hamilton Freeman noted that, "A fine lot of school books has just arrived, and are for sale cheap at the Post Office." It should be noted that the post office was then located in the L. L. Estes Drug Store at the northwest corner of Seneca and Bank Streets.
At a later time, due to the growing community, it became necessary to have a primary department and an intermediate department on the first floor. Mrs. Cooper continued with the primary and was assisted by Sue Hillock. Elizabeth Hillock taught the intermediate classes. The students finishing Eighth Grade were promoted "upstairs" with Watson J. Covil as the first advanced teacher. The November 12, 1864 Freeman reported, "W. J. Covil resigned due to ill health and D. D. Miracle took his place."
Mrs. Eva Pray Frank, a pupil during Mr. Miracle's tenure, reported in a letter that Miracle gave an exhibition at the close of the term to start a fund to buy a bell for the school. "People came and paid to hear their children speak pieces and sing songs." This raised enough money for the bell, which some believe was obtained in Fort Dodge from the Charlie Rogers steamboat. It later hung in a special bell tower constructed under the direction of Bessie Lyon, a long time and beloved history teacher.
By 1865 the number of students increased so much there was no longer room for all of them in the school. The district reported in the September 17, 1865, edition that "the number of children between the ages of five and twenty-one is something over two hundred." By 1870 the Freeman reported that children younger than 5 years could no longer attend. To relieve the crowded conditions, and to provide for a proper advance class, Mr. Henry Brown opened a "select" school in Funk's Hall on Seneca. In 1871, a cry for more room was heard, so the school board opened an east side school, called Hoboken, which had 38 pupils, South Building where Miss Ella Arthur taught 43 students, and Brick Building (it was later named Union School) had 63 in the primary department and Miss Nancy Willis had 86 in the grammar department.
In September, 1875, Professor Frank A. Baldwin, a Dartmouth graduate, opened his Academy in a two-story frame building, which was located about where the Fuller Hall swimming pool is now. He offered a classical education for the advanced student teaching Latin, Greek, German and bookkeeping. He soon became discouraged about the financial prospects for his school. The school board took over the school and hired him to teach the high school classes.
In 1877 Mr. Ed Burgess, later the librarian at Kendall Young Library, became principal and taught mathematics. The first class to graduate from Webster City High School were educated in this building and finished in the spring of 1881. There were only four graduates in this first class, all girls. They were Nora Thompson, Anna Parker, and Sumler Willson's two daughters, Clara and Teressa. The commencement exercises were held in the Congregational Church. Teressa Willson was the Valedictorian.
Someone once asked me if Webster City fielded a football team in its beginnings. When I checked the graduate listings I found that the Class of 1881 had four, all girls. The Class of 1882 had only two girls; the Class of 1883 had only six, again all girls; and the class of 1884 had only nine, still all girls. Many of the boys quit school in those days to farm, go into business, or on to other work. The Class of 1893 still had graduated only three boys.
This first school building was torn down in 1882 when North High School was constucted on the same site. During construction school classes were held all over town where there was available space. Classes were held in most church basements, the Town Hall on Seneca Street, and the courthouse.
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 June 2011 14:37