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Friday, October 24, 2008

East Troy's one-room schoolhouses

Students on the playground at Troy Center School from Al Gruling's book, "Good Ol' Fashioned School Days."

Al Gruling has been fascinated listening to stories about East Troy's one-room schoolhouses.

He realized the memories of those days were slowly fading away, so he began a 10-year project to document their history.

Contributing writer Herb Moering sat down with Gruling to hear about his new book, "Good Ol' Fashioned School Days."

Read his story after the jump.

Remembering the one-room schoolhouse

By Herb Moering/For Walworth County Sunday

EAST TROY -- Arrow Lodge, Bakers Corner, Centerville, German Settlement and Quarterline may be unfamiliar names to residents of the East Troy area.

But, thanks to Al Gruling, these one-room schoolhouses have come alive in the new book, "Good Ol' Fashioned School Days."

The book is a project of the East Troy Area Historical Society and also includes the former schools of Ackley, Adams, Baker, Bell, Black Oak, Carver, Funk, Little Prairie, Nipe, Stewart, Stone, Troy Center, Troy Lakes, Troy and Wright.

Gruling, of East Troy, spent 10 years interviewing area residents about the 20 schools.

Through hundreds of interviews, he details what life was like in a one-room schoolhouse before East Troy schools went through a series of consolidations in the 1950s and 1960s.

Only Stone, Stewart and Troy Center schools continued operating into the 1970s, Gruling said.

Stewart School closed after the 1981-'82 school year and was sold in 1986 to become the East Troy Town Hall.

Troy Center School closed in 1990 and was razed in 1996.

With only first- and second-grade classes left, Stone School closed in 1998 and was sold, but the current owners still hold crafts classes in the former schoolhouse.

The book offers a glimpse at the creative ways teachers kept their students engaged.

For example, former Baker School students told Gruling about school materials, the styles of boys' and girls' dress, lunchtime, recess, discipline, transportation and the names of many of the pupils and teachers.

The children at Adams School would listen to WHA radio, broadcast from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus each week, for art and music appreciation.

One photograph shows students at Arrow Lodge School dressed as milkmaids for dairy promotion. The school's name came from the many arrowheads found on the school grounds. The building now serves as the Spring Prairie Town Hall.

A few other interesting facts can be found at Bell School, which got its name from the prominent bell on the roof, making it the only school in the East Troy area with a bell. In 1931, gaslights replaced kerosene lamps, and schoolbooks were provided free for the first time.

Quarterline School's name most likely came from the dispute over where to locate the adjacent road. The boys in the area were known as Quarterliners.

Gruling, a 25-year charter member of the historical society, became interested in preserving schools' histories when he noticed one-room schoolhouses were disappearing, and the people who knew about them were beginning to die.

"Because I was interested in history, I wanted to preserve what we knew before it was too late," Gruling said. "It took a lot of research to acquire all the information and photos."

But, he added, "It was very rewarding and fun to do, not only the schools, but the people I met. I would talk to those I knew, and they often would give me a lead to others with information."

Gruling spent 22 years working with the Walworth County Human Services Department, and many of the seniors he met were able to help with his research. He still volunteers once a week in the senior visitor program.

The historical society's Rural School Book Committee, including Joan Couture, Eileen Kostopoulos, the late Bernice Maier, Judy Mitten and Mary Paetsch, helped with the book. Dan and Marge Richardson helped proofread the manuscript.

Now that the book has been published, Gruling is looking ahead to his next book, about the village of East Troy's schools.

"It should be easier this time around," Gruling said. "There's a lot of people waiting with stories and pictures."

The book on rural schools is going into a second printing and is $20. It can be purchased at the Citizens Bank of East Troy on the square, where the historical society meets every Tuesday morning. The book also can be purchased at the Aurora Pharmacy in the shopping center on Main Street and from historical society members.

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