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Cormorant center is 100 years young

Former teacher Mary Erickson sits at the desk she used in 1951-53 to teach at Cormorant Schoolhouse. It now sits in the basement's history room, below the fully restored original schoolhouse. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)1 / 3
100-year celebration for the schoolhouse, which is now used as the community center and town hall. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)2 / 3
The original schoolhouse wood floors were refinished and are still used in the community center. The school district No. 14 was dissolved in 1965 and the students were divided among Pelican Rapids, Lake Park and Audubon. It was the last country schoolhouse to close in Becker County. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)3 / 3

Cormorant School District No. 14 was organized Jan. 6, 1874, with Miss Jane Bardsley as the first teacher.

One of the largest country schools, there were 50-60 pupils, so the schoolhouse was divided into two rooms by a curtain, which still works 100 years later.

"It was the elite of country schools," former teacher Mary Erickson said.

She even had a janitor, which was unheard of back when she taught in the 1950s.

"I was busy," she said.

Besides teaching, there were no extra hands, so teachers served as the playground supervisor as well.

Where the playground is now used to be the baseball diamond for the country school. Erickson said there were a lot of broken windows due to baseballs.

"We had wonderful Christmas programs here," she added.

Now, celebrating 100 years, the Cormorant Schoolhouse is hosting a 100-year birthday party on Sept. 29 from 5 to 7 p.m. It will be an open house with hors d'oeuvres and beverages.

"We're hoping a lot of former students and teachers, families, will come," Erickson said, who is also helping organize the event.

There will also be tours of the historical building and a time for socializing and sharing stories.

It's been fascinating going back through history for the open house, Erickson said.

The furnace room below the schoolhouse, which is now the history room, had a dirt floor until the 1970s when a concrete floor was poured and was used for roller skating.

When workers were redoing the schoolhouse in the early 2000s, and pulled a piece of blackboard off the wall, on the back, the names of the two men who installed it were found, and the year 1939.

The schoolhouse closed in 1965, the last in Becker County. The 4-H club used it for meetings, and then it was taken over by the township and used as town hall.

The community center was added and attached in the early 2000s, and the schoolhouse was fully restored. The original wood floors are still in the building.

Downstairs is the historic room, with oil lamps from the original schoolhouse, the teacher's desk, and the original maps and encyclopedias.

The first school board members in the schoolhouse were S.W. Smith, T. Erickson and E.A. Richter. The last school board was made up of Duane Erickson, William Sherbrooke and Garner and Smith.

When the district dissolved in 1965, the students divided between Pelican Rapids, Lake Park and Audubon.

In 1990, Erickson said they held an all-school reunion.

The building gets used.

Four years ago, it became the location for the library LINK site -- which is open Monday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

Early Childhood Family Education uses it once a week. Monday the bridge club meets. Monday and Wednesday there's tae kwon do. Monday, Wednesday and Friday there is coffee club in the mornings. Two Tuesdays a month is art club. Besides early childhood, Thursday is pinochle. And in the summers especially, every weekend sees a wedding reception or other party of some sort.

"It is very used."

Not to mention there is an exercise room and walking track in the basement, the Lions meet there, the watershed district meets there and the township board meets there.

When the schoolhouse was built, according to the Detroit Record, it was a "model of stability, convenience and comfort."

D.S. Whittemore of Detroit (Lakes) built the cement block 30-by-60-foot schoolhouse with a full basement under it. With furniture, the project came in at $4,200.

"Indeed for a school of similar size, the writer has never seen one better equipped in every way and the comparison between it and the little old log house of grandfather's day is indeed ludicrous in the extreme," the article said.

The school board at the time believed that the community now had "something that will stand for the next quarter of a century as a monument to their progressiveness and enterprise."

The building and community has proven the building was more important and would last much longer than a quarter of a century.

"It is quite a community center," the center of the community, Erickson said. "The community has been involved because we have a meeting place here. We're very proud of our building."