"History of Lincoln, Oneida, and Vilas Counties Wisconsin"

Compiled by George O.Jones, Norman S. McVean and Others. Printed in 1924 by H.C.Cooper. Jr. & Co., Minneapoli-Winona MN. ill. 787 pages. The first two hundred pages are history of the three counties, the remainder of the book is biographies.


A history of early school days in Eagle River, written by Grant Cook, former pupil, teacher and county superintendent, and given local publication (in the Vilas County News) in May, 1923, has been drawn upon for many of the following statements, a few errors which it contained having been corrected:

"The first school in Eagle River was held in a log building, the use of which was donated by John O'Connor and which stood at a spot, now in the street, just north of the Finn Lawler home. The first winter there were but few pupils and the teacher was Miss Anna O'Connor, who was succeeded in the spring by her sister, Miss Matilda. A few people still reside in the village who went to that first school, which was rather remarkable in being orderly, and therefore uneventful in a new lumber town.

" The second term, the following year, was an entirely different proposition. During the spring and summer of 1884 the village settled rapidly, if the people who came, stayed awhile, then moved on again could be called settlers. A man teacher was thought necessary and George W. Bliss from Antigo was hired. He got away for the Christmas vacation and decided that 'no job' was preferable to coming back. Then followed a succession of almost anybody out of a job who sought excitement and was willing to try the Eagle River school for a round or two. There seems to be no record of these transitory teachers, but the farce of a school was finally closed in June by an old gentleman named Alexander H. Twilight.

"The first schoolhouse is worthy of description. The log shanty was about 24 feet square, very low, and had a 'scoop' roof made of halved and hollowed-out laid from two logs at the ridge to the eaves. The interstices between the logs of walls and roof were stuffed with sphagnum moss from a nearby marsh. There were but three small windows and the room was very dark except on sunny days. A fourth window was added the second year when the school got so large that nearly all the lumberman's bunks which filled the west end of the room had to be taken out to make room for the 30 odd pupils who crowded in daily. The school furniture was made from pine boards by a local carpenter and was patterned after the "forms" in English schools at that time. The desks were about 16 feet long and three wide, with tops sloping to each side so that the children sitting on the long benches faced each other at about the right distance to kick shins under the desks. With four or five such desks and twice as many benches crowded into the small space about a large box stove, it is little wonder that no one got much in the way of education that fond parents desired.

"Some of the pleasures of that school were often ludicrous. The whole school would run to the railroad bridge, the part now filled in on the north side, and forming in a long hand in hand line, jump into a deep snowbanks There were a few older boys and girls who could always be depended on to propose something new to suit any condition that might arise, like crossing the river west of the school on thin ice and the last ones breaking the ice to prevent the teacher following. That day no one stopped yelling as they coasted down a steep little hill long enough to hear the teacher calling from the north bank. Finally all had to go around to an old log bridge and got back to school about two o'clock. The favorite pranks were to put a tin can down in the stove pipe from the roof, get a half-witted chap to put cayenne pepper in the stove or drive a skunk under the shanty. All of these secured temporary vacations.

"The teaching, and especially the punishments of that old school, were amusing. One teacher had a plan to catch some one whispering. The pupil was yanked - on the only floor space, and, after a few swats with a ruler, told to stand there and catch someone else whispering while teacher heard the recitations. One sweetly pert little miss was caught and stood crying near the writer's desk. He whispered that he-was sorry for her. Well, she told, and moreover told what he said, so he got the ruler and the laugh of the school and, as he tried to live up to the school code, remained standing on the floor over half a day. The pert little lass later married a German count and had to live in Berlin, but the writer has no regrets.

"Another favorite punishment was to put the pupils in the bunks with their feet hanging out. One of Eagle River's fairest daughters was thus punished and, being but little over the kindergarten age, crawled back into the comer and went to sleep. There was a high time when her big brother got ready to go home and no little sister could be found. The teacher had forgotten where he put her. This teacher used to stand the boys in an empty butter tub for breaking any of his rules. An overgrown lanky lad finally got his feet fast and the teacher had to wreck the tub to get him out. This ended the butter tub stunts.

"Every year of school ended with a picnic when all animosities were forgotten and everyone had as good a time as possible. This second year of school was an exception, as neither the teacher nor anyone else would sponsor anything for the gang of roughnecks that would have attended such a jollification.

"The following summer a two-room schoolhouse, now the M. Frankel home, was built. Mrs. Hughes from Antigo taught the upper grades and Miss Tillie O'Connor the primary. This school made progress. Mrs. Hughes was a woman of many years' experience and reigned by tact and diplomacy. The school rooms soon became crowded, however, and a six-room building was built about 1887 on the spot where the present grade school stands. Many Eagle River people will remember the names of teachers who followed during the next few years-. Smiley Jones, Couch, Cross, and many others. All were teachers of character and ideals. Hardly a youngster of those school days but has made a fair success of life and more than a few will give the teachers credit for their start. Doctors, lawyers, merchants, preachers, nurses, farmers, almost all the professions are represented in the school's alumni. All of these must be pleased to see Eagle River's newest school nearing completion. It shows that the present citizens are anxious to give the best chance possible to the youth of the community to make a success under the new and ever changing conditions that constitute life."

In the fall of 1892 it was decided to erect a new school building in Eagle River, which was completed in 1893 and is the large brick high school now standing, with a comer tower, a good schoolhouse for its day, though -now of an old-fashioned type. Its construction cost $23,000 and it was opened and occupied in the fall of 1893 with 250 pupils in attendance and with Mr. Cross as principal.

In the school year of 1897-98 Eagle River had an excellent school with seven teachers, J. A. Walsh being principal and Alexander Higgins county superintendent.

In December, 1901,-the amount levied by the county board for the support of the schools for the ensuing year was $3,000, which was divided among the four towns then constituting the county as follows: Eagle River, $500; Minocqua, $1,000; Flambeau, $500; and Arbor Vitae, $1,000.

The report of the county superintendent in January, 1910, alluded to the rapid growth of the schools, necessitating the employment of more teachers and in some instances the building of new schoolhouses. The equipment generally was good and eight of the country schools had qualified that year on the first class rural school list, with nearly as many more taking the necessary steps to do so. A tenth- grade room had been added to the Arbor Vitae schools. Of the 25 boys and girls graduated from the eighth grade and common schools the previous year, the majority were doing high school work. According to the census of 1910, the school population of Vilas County was then 1,363, of which number 695 were male and 668 female. The number in school 24 weeks or more was 615; the total number of days attendance (.aggregate of all the pupils) 148,448. The financial receipts were: from county tax $47,073.90; from state tax $9,943.53. Three institutes were held during the year for Vilas County teachers, one at Eagle River, one at Hackley (now Phelps) and a joint institute at Minocqua, all well attended.

In January, 1911, there were 26 schoolhouses in the county and five buildings rented for school purposes. Among the country schools there was marked improvement in repairs to buildings and equipment during the previous year. The value of all the school buildings and sites was estimated at $55,950; of school furniture and equipment, $3,370; of school libraries, $1,875, and of text books, $2,000; total 863,195. There were 49 teachers, two of whom, however, were referred to in the superintendent's report as "in parochial school at Clearwater."

The school population for the school year of 1910-1911 was 1,545, the daily average attendance being 883, the best record being in the Pioneer school in the town of Conover, where only eight days were lost by all the pupils and the attendance .vas over 99 per cent. The schools at Fosterville (now Winegar) and Winchester had become state graded schools of the second class. There were 28 school- houses in the county and four rented buildings used for school purposes. Eagle River had the best building and was the best equipped. The State Line School had the best building of any of the small schools, as it was built for 80 pupils and there were only 12 in town at the time. The combined seating capacity of the schoolhouses was 1657, some schools being crowded, while others had plenty of room. The total cash value of all school property was about $65,500, and there were 51 teachers, three of whom were teaching in parochial schools at Clearwater and Eagle River. In 1913 each town in the county constituted one district.

In July, 1912, the school population was reported as 1,601, with an enrollment of 1,384, or 86 per cent, and an average attendance per day of 838, or 61 per cent, the high school attendance at Arbor Vitae and Eagle River, however, not being reported. The school libraries contained 3,697 books, of an estimated value of $3,443.50, and the total cost of running the schools for the year was $49,872.S3.

The superintendent's report in October, 1914, showed that there were 1,375 children of school age in the county, of whom 702 were boys and 673 girls; that 595 boys and 559 girls attended school, a total of 1,147 or over 83 per cent. The average attendance was 784 or over 68 per cent, the low per cent being due to many children moving out from Arbor Vitae and Lac du Flambeau. There were accommodations for 1,465 pupils and crowding was the exception. Text books were furnished in all nine districts of the county and transportation was furnished in four districts.

In December, 1922, the amount levied for the support of the common schools in each town was: Arbor Vitae $1,000; Conover, $1,000; Cloverland, $1,500; Farmington, $600; Flambeau, $400; Lincoln, $1,500; Phelps, $2,500; Plum Lake, $1,000; Presque Isle, $3,000; State Line, $300; Washington, $1,100; Village of Eagle River, $1,100; total, $15,000. The annual report for the school year of 1922-23 showed that there were 36 rural schools in Vilas County, with 37 rural teachers, one of the schools having two departments. There are four state graded schools, with 18 teachers, and two high schools, with eight teachers. The school census for the same year showed that there were 2,066 children of school age (4 to 20 years) in the county, of whom 1,522 were actually enrolled, the average daily attendance being 1,239, or a little over 81 per cent. There were 102 pupils graduated from the eighth grade.

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