Schools of Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin
The schools and colleges of Prairie du Chien are the pride of its people; and the high type of culture and refinement found among her citizens is but the outgrowth of these educational institutions. While this is a strong Roman Catholic city, both Catholics and Protestants work in harmony in supporting the public schools.
The first school district formed here was what is known as district No. 1. This was created in 1842.
The first school was taught in a private building by Miss Rice, afterward Mrs. Jerrad Warner. A schoolhouse was at once erected. This district took in what is now the "Lower Town."
About the same date, however, district No. 2 was formed, which embraced old St. Feriole, or the city proper now.
Among the earliest teachers here were Ellen Overton and A. Denio.
In 1857 a project was started by which a new school building for the "Lower Town" was to be built to take the place of the first one erected in the city. At that date there could only be raised about $300 on the "grand list" of taxable property; but the citizens not wishing to build with so small a fund, petitioned the Assembly, through the State superintendent, to allow them to levy a larger tax. The reasons set forth by the petitioners being sufficient this was duly granted them, and soon after the erection of a two-story stone building was commenced, which finally cost $4,000. This building is still (1884) in use. However, before the completion of this building this district run short of funds, but through the public spirit of Samuel A. Clark, who loaned them $2,200, the work of finishing went on.
Mr. Samuel A. Clark was elected as the first school treasurer, whose office it was, then, to collect all school taxes. He held this position for twenty-two years, from 1840 to 1862.
In 1872, when the city of Prairie du Chien became an independent corporation, it also became an independent school district, which was soon provided with its own school board and also school superintendent.
At a regular meeting of the city council of the city of Prairie du Chien held May 3, 1875, under the provisions of the amended city charter, the first board of education was elected. The following persons constituted the First School Board.
The election of the above gentlemen gave general satisfaction and their fitness for the duties imposed can be appreciated from the following endorsement published at the time:
The first regular meeting of the board of education in Prairie du Chien was held at the office of Hon. Wm. Dutcher, Monday, July 5, 1875. John Lawler was elected president of the board. Prof. Thomas H. Nyhan, (since deceased) was tendered the position of school superintendent, but declined to accept. At a subsequent meeting of the board, held July 10, 1875, Prof. J. Sutter was elected city school superintendent and clerk of the board, and immediately entered upon the discharge of his duties. He was a most efficient and faithful officer. Mr. Theodore Schuman was elected to take Prof. Sutter's place on the board.
The board of education promptly visited the schools in every ward, and made a careful investigation of all the school property, schoolhouses and modes of management then existing. They were convinced that extensive improvements were absolutely necessary. They determined to have a first-class school with
competent teachers in every ward. They made known to the city council the result of their deliberations from time to time.
The common council, immediately after reading of this communication, passed by unanimous vote, the following resolution:
This was also agreed to by unanimous vote of the council.
This was the first official action to improve the condition of the city public schools, and construct a high school in Prairie du Chien. Much preparatory work had to be accomplished. All the ward schools were put in first-class order. The preliminary matters arranged, the first appropriation asked by the board, $4,000 was levied Oct. 4, 1875, and on Monday, Oct. 11, 1875, the plans for the new high school were approved. This determined that the new central high school building should be erected, and the board called for another appropriation of $5,000 to commence the work. The board found upon subsequent consideration that they would require about $10,000, more than the city could appropriate for the purpose, and there was a lengthy correspondence between the secretary of State, Hon. P. Doyle, and the attorney general and the president of the school board. It was agreed that a special act of the Legislature was necessary to secure a $10,000 loan from the State.
The following communication to the city council explains the whole matter:
A special city election was held, and the taxpayers carried it in favor of a tax to build the high school building. The money was borrowed from the State. The contract was let to Messrs. Menges & Lefeldt. And thus the first high school in Crawford county originated, and was completed under the direction of the first board of education, and to the credit of the citizens of Prairie du Chien. At this time (1884) the schools of the city are in a very flourishing condition.
There are now (1884) five school houses within the independent district of Prairie du Chien, situated as follows: First ward, a two story stone structure, built in 1857; second ward, one brick building two stories high, built in 1876, at a cost of $12,000, and a frame house, two stories high; third ward, a brick building not in use, but in good condition; fourth ward, this contained a small one story frame building, which stands west of the slough near the river.
Roman Catholic Schools
The people of Prairie du Chien have ever taken a deep interest in educational matters and from the earliest date have provided the best methods of teaching. Especially are the Roman Catholic people entitled to much credit for their zeal in this direction, as they have always labored to make Prairie du Chien a city of schools and colleges, the benefit of which they are finally enjoying; as but few places in the State can boast of better denominational schools than those at this point. They have two flourishing institutions of learning at this place.
The College of the Sacred Heart, conducted by the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, for the training and education of boys, and St. Mary's Institute, conducted by the sisters of the Society of Notre Dame, for the education and practical training of girls. Each of these institutions aims to give the youth of both sexes such a practical education as will enable their pupils to meet the exigencies of life, and to be useful and respected members of society. While these institutions are Roman Catholic, their doors are open alike to Catholic and non-Catholic, and as a matter of fact, the patronage is about equally divided between these two classes, which is a striking evidence of the esteem in which they are held by the public. The patronage of both institutions has outgrown their foundations; consequently the Jesuit Fathers are preparing to increase their accommodations to twice their present capacity, by the erection of a new building, the estimated cost of which is $50,000. When this improvement is completed the college property will be worth $100,000. The college at present is under the immediate control of the Rev. Father William Becker, president, who has conducted its management successfully since its establishment. The number of students in attendance from September 1882 to July, 1883, was ninety-one.
This institution was opened in September 1880, and chartered as The College and University of the Sacred Heart, Aug. 20, 1881. The college comprises two courses of study, classical and commercial. The full course consists of six classes, to be absolved in six years. Though the college is only entering upon its fourth year, the number of classes will be complete the next session. The College of the Sacred Heart is complete in its appointments, and conducted under a wise, firm, yet mild and paternal system of government. The situation is picturesque and healthful. The building stands on rising ground commanding extensive views of the Mississippi and Wisconsin valleys and the beautiful bluffs that bound them. Taken all in all, it is one of the most attractive and beautiful collegiate properties in the entire northwest. Its president, the Rev. Father William Becker, is a thorough scholar, and a man of fine executive ability. He was born in Germany, educated in Europe, and came to the United States in 1869.
He acquired an enviable reputation, in the east, as the founder of the St. Ignatius College at Buffalo, which he conducted several years, with such marked success, that it was acknowledged by the highest authority in educational matters in New York, as one of the leading institutions of that State. He is supported by an able faculty, four of whom are of American birth, one of English and the others of German.
The college building was originally built as a large hotel in 1857-8, by a joint stock company, at a cost of $56,000. It was used as a hotel only a few years, or until the removal of the railway depot to Upper Town. During the war, it was used by the government as a hospital; next, an unsuccessful effort was made to have the State accept it as a site for a Normal school. Failing in this, its managers organized an independent college, known as the Prairie du Chien College, this institution proved a failure, financially, and was closed after a brief existence of three years. About 1873 the property passed into the hands of the Brothers of the Christian schools, a Catholic order, which opened it under the title of St. John's College. This Institution failed to meet the expectations of its founders, and was closed about 1876.
The property was then purchased of the Catholic Brothers, by Mr. John Lawler, who added largely to its value by substantial and important improvements, and then in his free handed public spirited way, presented it to the "Fathers of the Society of Jesus," thus making that order a present of a property, valued at nearly $50,000, while his beneficence insured to Prairie du Chien a permanent and creditable institution of learning.
St. Mary's Institute was established in 1872. The buildings being erected for that special purpose, under the management of the chief donor, Mr. John Lawler. The Institute is conducted under the management of the sisters of the order of Notre Dame, and is presided over by a sister superior, of that order. During the vacation period of 1883, the sisters completed a dormitory, capable of accommodating 100 students. For the year ending July 1883, the number of students in attendance, averaged seventy-five. It may be proper here to remark that in the Institute as well as the College the students comprise representatives from nearly all of the northwestern states. The system of education, under the able management of the sisters, is one that commends itself to every unprejudiced mind. This is no fashionable boarding-school, where only a superficial education is obtained; here the solid acquirements are gained that fit the students for the earnest duties of life, which in the course of events are liable to devolve upon them; at the same time, the range of studies embraces the higher branches, languages, music and art. The buildings of the Institute occupy the historic ground of Fort Crawford, the ruins of which form a picturesque feature of the landscape. The situation is elevated, and commands a magnificent view of the Mississippi river and valley, and the towering bluffs on either side.
The buildings are tasty and commodious, and fitted with the most improved modern conveniences. No pains have been spared to make this institution a model of its kind.
Independent German School
On the first day of December 1866, a number of the prominent German citizens of Prairie du Chien, met for the purpose of organizing an independent German school, where the German language might be taught, without regard to any religious creed. After preliminaries, the following officers were elected: F. Unger, R. Rosenbaum, Jacob Raffauf, M. Menges, Otto Georgii and H. Boehlke trustees; F. Unger, president; F. Rosenbaum, treasurer; Jacob Raffauf, secretary.
A constitution was adopted and the following March 1867, the society was made a legal
corporation, by an act of the State Legislature. For two years this school society held their school in a private school building of John Lawler's and in the German Methodist church. In 1868, however, they erected a neat, one story brick school building which stands just east of the courthouse square. This school was in successful operation until 1878, when it was discontinued. At one time the school contained seventy-five pupils, a part of who were from American
families. A tuition fee of $1.00 was required of those whose parents belonged to the society, and $1.50 from those outside. The association was made up of about thirty members, but finally has been reduced to thirteen, on account of deaths and removals.
The last officers elected were as follows: M. Frederick, M. Menges, H. Otto, S. Rosenbaum, C. Leefeldt and Theodore Shuman, trustees; Henry Otto, president; M. Menges, vice-president; R. Rosenbaum, treasurer, and M. Frederick, secretary.
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