History of Area Schools
Soon after coming to northwest Iowa in the early 1870’s, the pioneers began to establish neighborhood schools. There was a County Superintendent of Schools who would regularly publish notes about his school visits in the Sioux County Herald and later newspapers so that settlers could judge the progress being made. The first school in Reading Township was established in the southern portion of the township (Section 33) in 1870. Prior to 1875, children in the northern portion of the township attended the “Tarbox School” which was located in Washington Township just northwest of the present town of Ireton.
As the population grew so did the need for schools. When Iowa counties were surveyed, they were laid out in townships consisting of 36 sections (usually square miles) of land. For school purposes, each township was then divided into 9 sub-districts, each consisting of four sections. Eventually a school was constructed near the center of the sub-district so that no child had to travel more than two miles to school. Reading Township erected schools in each of its 9 sub-districts by the end of the 1870’s. Each sub-district had a director and the sub-district was responsible for erecting and maintaining the schoolhouse as well as hiring and paying its teacher.
All students in 1st (Kindergarten after it was added) through 8th grades attended school in the same classroom. Some of the early school buildings were little more than shacks with no outbuildings; however, settlers eventually began building schools like the one at left — a small, rectangular building, occasionally with a cupola and bell. The teacher was responsible not only for teaching students but for ensuring that there was a supply of fuel, that the building was heated, that the building was cleaned each night and that there was water available. Often the teacher was just a few years older than his or her students. In 1919, the Iowa legislature adopted the “Standard School” law which granted state aid to schools that met certain requirements. One-half of the state aid allotment was to go to the teacher as a salary supplement and the other half to purchasing equipment and supplies. By 1925, qualification as an Iowa Standard School required that schools meet state rules in six categories: the schoolhouse, grounds and outbuildings, equipment and care of the school building, library and supplemental readers, the teacher’s qualifications and academic requirements, and community activities. Sioux County Superintendent Charles Tye encouraged all sub-districts to erect a school that would meet the state standards. As a result, erected a school in the style shown at the right. These schools had a basement, furnace, cloakroom, book closet, girls and boys restrooms (usually with chemical toilets since they did not have running water), cisterns and electricity (when it became available through the rural electrification project). These rural schools continued in existence until the 1950’s when the availability of transportation and reduced rural population resulted in school consolidations. All rural schools in Reading, Washington, Center and Eagle townships were closed by the 1959-60 school year and absorbed into larger school districts. The Greater Sioux Genealogical Society has posted photos and information about many of the county’s schools on the Sioux County GenWeb site.
IRETON PUBLIC SCHOOLS
After the town of Ireton was established in 1882, children in the new town first attended the “Kluter School”, a country school located on the southeast corner of section 6, Reading township — just northeast of the new town. By the summer of 1885, residents wanted a school within the town’s borders and the “Kluter School” was moved to “schoolhouse hill” (bounded by 3rd & 4th streets on the north & south and Oak & Ash Streets on the west & east). According to Marshall Elder, everyone volunteered to take part in moving the schoolhouse — especially the young men and older boys. The building was repaired and a small addition constructed on one end. Miss Sadie McCollum was the first teacher after the school was moved to Ireton.
Before the winter of 1885-86 was over, the schoolhouse had become inadequate for the town’s needs and another small building was constructed a short distance to the west of the first building. The new building was equipped for younger pupils and in the fall of 1886, Miss Emma Sargent was the first teacher in that building.
The town was growing rapidly and the need for a larger school with room for upper grades became apparent. During 1886-1887, the school board (Marshall M. Elder, Levi M. Black and David E. Wing) supervised the construction of a two-story four-room frame building just west of the existing schools (probably about where the gymnasium now sits). According to Angie (Elder) Ferguson’s History of Reading Township, there were “two large rooms down stairs and two rooms above, with a flight of stairs on each side of the hall into which the entrance expanded. The two stair flights merged into a landing about half way up to the second floor so that the remaining distance was made by means of the “merged” flight of stairs ascending in the opposite direction. Entrance to each of the lower rooms could be made from the lower hall. So, also, was the entrance to each of the upper rooms available from the upstairs hall.”
During 1887-1888, the upper rooms were unoccupied but in the fall of 1888, Charles S. Cobb conducted classes for the older students in the second floor room (not yet made into two rooms). Prof. Cobb, together with local volunteer-activist Alice M. (“Biddie”) (Mrs. D. R.) Stewart, worked tirelessly to organize the Ireton High School. On June 1, 1890, Ireton High School graduated its first class consisting of six students: Robert (“Rob”) Brown, Katherine Burns, Sarah Davidson, Angeline (“Angie”) Elder, Anna Moffatt and Hubert (“Bert”) Wing. (It was reportedly the first graduating class from a public school in Sioux County but we have not been able to verify that information.)
In 1894, a small, square one-story building was erected to the east of the two-story building. The one-story building became home to Ireton’s primary grades. Soon additional room was needed and an addition was constructed on the two-story building. Both buildings were used until 1915-1916 when a brick school was constructed to replace them. The two-story building was demolished at that time but the one-story building was moved to 302 Oak Street and converted into a residence.
By the fall of 1914, the wooden schools had aged and the school population had increased, thanks in part, to rural children attending school in Ireton. In addition, new courses were being added at the secondary level. A new school was discussed over the winter and spring and on May 24, 1915, a bond issue was placed before the public. Voters were asked whether the Ireton Public School District would be permitted to issue bonds for the construction of a new schoolhouse to cost no more than $30,000. The measure passed overwhelmingly with women voting yes by a margin of 123 in favor to 7 opposed and men voting 112 in favor and 40 opposed. According to the Hawarden Independent of May 27, the result was met with “wild rejoicing. Bells were rung, the band played, and every conceivable noise was made. There has not been such a demonstration in Ireton since the celebration over voting out the saloons. To cap it all, a great bon-fire was started and the noise continued into the night.”
Bids were quickly taken for the construction of the new school and work commenced immediately on a three-story brick school. The top floor was occupied by the high school and middle floor by the other grades. The ground floor held the gymnasium, shower rooms and manual training. The new school building was dedicated in a blizzard on January 28, 1916. The bonds were paid off in 1934.
Although rural schools continued to serve elementary students, they had no high schools. Some students ended their education when they completed 8th grade but others were “tuition students” at Ireton High School. Some tuition students lived with “town families” during the school year but as roads improved bus transportation from the rural areas to Ireton became more available.
In 1946, meetings began between the Ireton Public School district and two adjoining townships to consolidate their schools. To accommodate the changing enrollment, a bond issue was proposed to build a new auditorium and gymnasium. The measure passed by just one vote — 115-75 (a 60% majority was needed). During the 1950’s, students from country schools in Reading and Washington Townships were gradually absorbed into the Ireton Consolidated School District. In general, the schools that were closer to town were the first to close and students enrolled in Ireton.
By the end of the decade, the rural population had declined to such a level that maintaining country schools was no longer feasible. In addition, the state of Iowa began implementing stricter standards regarding teacher education. As roads and vehicles improved, bus transportation also became a better option. In the fall of 1958, voters in Ireton, Hawarden and Chatsworth and surrounding rural areas approved a merger plan. The new school district, West Sioux Community School District, began operations July 1, 1959. Ireton High School graduated its last class, a class of 16, on May 19, 1959. From 1890 through 1959, Ireton High School graduated 830 students in 67 classes. Click here for an alphabetized list of all graduates.
When country school students began attending school “in town” in 1959, it put a squeeze on the available space. The school district merger plans included a new elementary facility in Ireton. The building was constructed on the north side of the brick high school. Elementary classrooms, the art room and the principal’s office were located in the new facility but elementary students ate lunch and attended music classes in the old brick building. Classes for grades 6-8 were offered in the brick building.
West Sioux enrollment continued to decline as “baby boomers” graduated from high school. Ireton graduated its last 8th grade class in 1980. In the fall of 1980, all 7th and 8th grade classes were consolidated in Hawarden. Students in grades Kindergarten through 6th continued to attended classes at the Ireton center.
As buildings aged, enrollment changed and new state standards were imposed, West Sioux again sought changes and improvements to facilities within the district. On February 26, 1991, voters were asked to approve a $3.3 million bond issue. The plans called for demolition of the brick Ireton high school constructed in 1915-1916 and constructing a 9,450 square foot one-story addition to the elementary facility. The addition would house a library and multi-purpose room that would allow the library to be moved from the back of a classroom and computers to be moved from the music room to the library. It would also allow for pre-school and all-day kindergarten were they to be mandated by the state of Iowa. The proposal also called for significant changes to the Hawarden elementary building and to West Sioux High School. Details are available in the February 7, 1991 issue of the Ireton Examiner found here. 60% approval was needed to carry the bond issue. It was defeated by a vote of 944 “yes”, 639 “no” and 6 blank or defectively marked ballots.
After defeat of the bond issue in 1991, tensions ran high among West Sioux residents as a facilities committee reviewed buildings and options and discussions were held about consolidating classes and going to a single school site. The condition of buildings continued to deteriorate. The old brick Ireton High School was closed to students by the state fire marshal. Cooks were allowed in the kitchen to prepare meals but had to hand them up through an opening to the elementary facility. Several bond issues were defeated; however, on June 30, 1998, voters in the District approved a $6.4 million plan which created a Kindergarten-1st grade center in Ireton, consolidated grades 2-5 at the Hawarden Elementary site and constructed a Middle School (grades 6-8) addition to the High School.
As a result of the bond approval, the brick High School, constructed for $30,000 in 1915, was finally demolished in February 1999 and a new addition constructed including a media room, library, serving kitchen, mechanical room and loading dock and lunchroom facility. The 1950 gymnasium was retained for physical education and playground facilities have been updated. The gymnasium is often used for community events and may be rented for private gatherings. For those of you nostalgic for the old brick high school, we’ve prepared a slideshow including its demolition.
As state rules on in-home child care tightened and long-time “babysitters” retired, it became apparent that a daycare facility was needed in Ireton. In 2008, pursuant to an agreement between the City of Ireton and the West Sioux School District, the West Sioux Daycare and Preschool opened its doors. It offers daycare, preschool and after-school care.
West Sioux’s early childhood education center (birth-1st grade) is a welcome feature of life in Ireton. Older grades are provided free bus transportation to Hawarden.
IRETON CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
(Information on the period from 1911-1992 is taken from 1917-Ireton Christian School – 1992 published for the school’s 75th anniversary. Later information provided by Principal Marlin Schoonhoeven.)
In 1911, members of the fledgling Ireton Christian Reformed Church organized a school society. They purchased the land where the Ireton Christian School (ICS) now stands (between 4th & 5th Streets on the west side of Maple) on January 20, 1913 and offered their first summer school class that year with a student teacher, Mr. Pilon, as the instructor.
The Society again offered summer school in 1914 and held its first picnic that year in the John Peters Grove where Rev. Van Houten spoke for 2 hours on the subject of “Opvoeding” (Bringing up children). They attempted to start a school in the fall of 1915 but had prospects of only 20 to 25 students.
By 1916, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) had outgrown the former “Center Chapel” it was using as its church building (pictured at right) and gave it to the Society for the school. The building was moved to the northeast corner of the lot and remodeled into a two-room school with a hallway in between. By February 1917, only $85 of the $300 they believed necessary to start the school had been raised but by April, $950 had been promised for the school.
The Society hired Mr. Al Muyskens of Oak Harbor, Washington to be its first teacher at a salary of $800 for the year. He also performed janitorial duties for an extra $5 per month. When school opened on September 10, 1917, there were 42 students — more than the 35-40 that had been expected. In order to accommodate all the students, Mrs. Muyskens was hired in October to assist her husband for one hour in the morning and three hours each afternoon. She continued until December 1917 when Mr. Muyskens’ brother was hired as the second teacher. Tuition was $15 per child per year.
According to Carl Postma, a student in that first year, Mr. Muyskens was a tall imposing man who was an excellent teacher. “His Bible lessons were excellent, he acted them out. He was a musician, played the violin and organized a church band.” Ferd C. Schiebout was also a student in that first year and remembered that “school would be closed for two weeks so the families could pick corn.” He also remembered that roads were very bad and caused problems for the country children. “Dirt roads became muddy when wet and took longer time to travel. In the winter, the roads were frozen and very hard for the horses to walk on. The horses had to wear metal horseshoes to protect their hoofs. The horseshoes had spikes so the horses could walk and run on frozen ice and not fall . Each fall season when freezing winter came, we children would stop at the blacksmith shop and unhitch Star from the buggy and leave him there for the day.”
School board minutes were in the Dutch language until March 9, 1942 but as early as 1918, the State of Iowa ruled that the school had to use English not the Dutch language. In 1922, the school began issuing diplomas for its 8th grade graduates but if the parents wanted a certificate from the state, the student had to write his or her exam in the public school. In 1925, Rev. E. Van Farowe of the CRC offered to buy a school bus with his own money. The offer was accepted and the bus could carry 25 children but by 1927, the Society decided not to run the bus in the winter months because not enough children were riding. An alumni association was formed in 1927.
The great depression of the 1930’s was very hard on the school. Teachers were asked to do more for less money. Enrollment dropped in the early 1930’s so that only one teacher was employed; however, by 1935 there was again a need for two teachers. Grace (Vander Werf) Hartog taught at the school from 1937-1941. She commented, “On account of the depression, we made many sacrifices. I learned to love the great cause of Christian education. Many times it was hard for me to accept my pay check, as the children needed new shoes more than I needed the money. The old church served as the building for the school. It was very, very cold. I went to school at 5:00 a.m. to light the furnace.” She added that she really enjoyed her life at Ireton even though the years were hard and difficult and food and money were scarce. They made her see the “blessings of God in this great task – to teach covenant children in the ways of the Lord we were one big family who depended on God and each other.”
Ann (Schiebout) Van Bruggen was a student at the school from 1925-1933 and began teaching there in 1941. She recalled that when she began teaching, “It was the same building where I had attended as a pupil 10 years earlier. Still no indoor toilets, gym, or running water. An old cistern next to the school building was the only source of drinking water, and two small outhouses back of the school building were the only bathrooms around. The teachers were also the custodians. The worst job was taking care of the furnace compared to today’s modern classrooms and techniques, it was a rugged life for pupils and teachers. However, it was very rewarding to see how eager the pupils were to learn their lessons.”
On May 12, 1945, Ed Van Engen donated two lots south of the old school building to be used as a building site for a new school. $2,793 in pledges was collected for the new building. In December 1949, Wiltgen Company of Le Mars, the low bidder, completed a new 2 room structure. The building was dedicated on January 6, 1950. The following January, a house was purchased for the principal. Enrollment continued to increase and in 1953, two more rooms were added to the school. By September 1955, enrollment had increased to 90 students with four teachers. The first Kindergarten class began that year. A Kindergarten room and storage room were added in 1964 and a new house purchased for the principal in 1965.
The school celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary in August 1967 and children from the Hawarden and Lebanon Christian Reformed Churches began attending ICS in 1967 and 1968. A hot lunch program was added in 1969. The gymnasium and an activity room were constructed in the summer of 1972 and in 1974, busing began through the West Sioux School District.
The need for additional space continued and a music room and two additional classrooms were built in 1978. A photo of the school as it appeared in 1980 may be seen in the upper left. The last addition was in 1991 when a computer and band room were added on the west side of the gym.
Kids of the Kingdom (KOK) Preschool opened at ICS in 1993. Although the preschool was originally governed by a separate board of directors, it is now a part of ICS.
A number of renovations have been made to the school and grounds in recent years. New lower elementary bathrooms were installed in 2005 and a new furnace system for the south half and boiler system for the north half of school were installed in 2007.
In 2009, the school fenced the playground and KOK play area (photo at right is before fencing was installed). In 2011, the school improved the security of its students by remodeling space near the south entrance for the secretary and principal and moving the remedial room to the east end of school. A new sidewalk on the south and east sides of school, new bus approach and parkway on south side of school were added in 2011.
Students from a 40 mile radius currently attend ICS and represent a number of different churches. It is a member of Christian Schools International and offers extra-curricular/interscholastic activities through the N.W. Iowa Christian Schools group.