The public school building in Hillsboro in Henry County, Iowa, has sat vacant since 1986. The red brick building was constructed fifty years prior and originally used as the high school for Hillsboro area students. When Hillsboro aligned with Bonaparte and Farmington to form the Harmony School District, the school became a K-6 elementary school for students in the immediate area, before being used for all third and fourth grade students across the district.
Proposals to close the school surfaced as early as 1979, as part of a bond proposal to relocate all students to Farmington, the largest community in the district. The proposal was soundly defeated, largely due to voters from Bonaparte and Hillsboro, where older buildings would have been closed if the bonding plan passed. The defeat provided a reprieve for the Hillsboro school, though closure of either the Bonaparte or Hillsboro school buildings quickly became imminent. The State Department of Public Instruction recommended the Hillsboro location be closed, and the Harmony school board voted to do so following the 1985-86 school year.
Citizens in Hillsboro were unhappy about the closure, but threats to change districts or take legal action against the Harmony school board never materialized. Fourteen years later, the Harmony School District presented a bond proposal to renovate the elementary school in Bonaparte as part of a district-wide facility improvement plan. Hillsboro residents, possibly still unhappy about losing the closure of their school building, overwhelmingly voted against the proposal 83-7.
The Merry Brook School Museum sits near the edge of downtown Woodbine in Harrison County, Iowa. The iconic one-room school house dates to the 1870s, when it was located a mile east of Woodbine near the site of the present municipal airport. When improvements were made to the airport in 1958, the Merry Brook School was forced to relocate. It was moved into the city, placed near the elementary school, and used as a fifth grade classroom.
The school was relocated to its present location in 1991, when it was set upon a basement foundation. The basement is home to the Harrison County Genealogical Society, while the school itself is now a museum; it’s open to the public by appointment. To schedule an appointment, call (712) 647-2593.
This three-story school opened to students in Wyman when three nearby one-room county schools were consolidated. Constructed in 1912 at a cost of $15,000, the red brick building served all grade levels of students for over forty years. The last high school class graduated from Wyman in 1956; the following year, further consolidation made the school part of the nearby Winfield-Mt. Union School District. Wyman School served as an elementary school until 1978.
Following the closure, the school went up for auction and was purchased by local businessman Keith Jones. Both alumni of Wyman High School, Keith and his wife Pat started a clothing business in the former school building on April Fool’s Day in 1980. The store originally focused on jeans and overalls, but quickly grew into a full-fleged family clothing store. Merchandise spread from classroom to classroom, and the store became a destination from customers across southeast Iowa.
Business at the Wyman Wearhouse wasn’t limited to Iowans: Pat noted she had sold clothing to visitors from around the United States and the world, from Alaska to Australia. The clothing store operated successfully for nearly two decades before the owners decided to retire and sell the former school in 1999. Sadly, in the last decade, the school building and surrounding grounds have fallen to a state of disrepair. Windows are broken or boarded, and overgrown shrubs and weeds surround the property.
Alumni and friends of the Wyman School held their 75th and final reunion banquet in July; with a aging and dwindling alumni population, the group decided this year’s reunion would be its last. Wyman is an unincorporated town located in the southwest corner of Louisa County; the county genealogical website features more information on the origin of the community and its school.
More Iowa Schools
In last Sunday’s Des Moines Register, Iowa columnist Kyle Munson highlighted a few of the former brick school buildings across the state. While many of these buildings stand vacant, others have been renovated and repurposed as homes, community centers, or businesses. Beyond the column, Munson is working on compiling an A-Z list of former schools across the state.
Constructed in 1874, the Swensrud School originally stood on a family farm four miles northeast of Northwood in Worth County, Iowa. In 1972, it was moved from farm to city and is now part of a central park in downtown Northwood.
Inside, visitors will find old desks, a pot-bellied stove, a collection of old school books, and a list of teachers who taught at the school. The school is closed for the season, with normal hours Sundays 2 to 4 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The one-room schoolhouse is adjacent to the main Worth County Historical Museum.
The Westmar Memorial Park was dedicated in August 2004, seven years after the university closed its doors. The park is filled with mementos from the former university, including the bell tower, gazebo, and the college sundial. The bricks used in the entryway above were taken from Dubs and Wernli Hall, two buildings which were torn down in 2002.
Westmar College operated for 107 years, which included a five year stint associated with Teikyo University, a global consortium of schools and colleges based in Japan. While some college buildings have been repurposed, many on the campus remain empty. For more detail on the history of Westmar, check out the Westmar Alumni and Friends Association website.