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A brief history of Becker County country schools

Grand Park Township, which no longer exists (and much of which now lies within Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge), had just one country school district, District No. 95. Photo courtesy Becker County Museum1 / 3
Height of Land Township's country school, District 49. Photo courtesy Becker County Museum2 / 3
School District No. 3's early country school, in Audubon Township. Photo courtesy Becker County Museum3 / 3

In Becker County's early days, whenever a new township was organized, one of the first orders of business for the settlers was to form a school for their township. Once a school district was organized, it was given a district number and a name. District No. 107, for example, which was in Detroit Township, was called Garfield, and District No. 10, in Cormorant Township, was the Franklin School.

The way district numbers were assigned to school districts was simple: They generally went in order, with District No.1 being the first school district to ever be organized in Becker County, District No. 2 being the second, and so on.

But history is not always that black and white. What I mean is, the District No. 1 we know today, in Detroit Township, was not truly the first school district organized in Becker County. Technically, School District No. 1 was the second school district organized.

No one can tell this story better than Mr. Alvin H. Wilcox, who wrote in his book, "A Pioneer History of Becker County, Minnesota (1907)":

"The first school in the township was taught by Nancy M. Comstock in the fall of 1871 in a log building on the land of Henry Way on Section 20. On the 30th of September 1871, the board of the county commissioners declared all of Township 139, Range 42, or what is now Audubon Township, established or created into one school district, to be known as School District No. 1.

"The legal voters of the district proceeded to organize by electing a board of school officers and hired a school teacher who began a term of school that fall, it being the first school taught in Becker County outside the White Earth Reservation.

"It was afterwards discovered that the creation of the school district was illegal, as there had been no petition presented to the board, and the creation of the district was annulled, and Detroit Township made District No. 1."

Once Detroit Township was named School District No. 1, the original School District No. 1 in Audubon Township was legally organized and became School District No. 3, in 1872. However, the first school district ever taught in Becker County is recorded to be the Pine Point School. This school was also the first school district to have a hot lunch program.

Starting from the first organized school district until the 1920s, new school districts were organized throughout the county. Generally, the townships would start by organizing one or two school districts at once and then at least two more school districts would be added. The average number of school districts per township in Becker County was four, but there were a few townships that held as few as one school district, and as many as six.

According to records at the Becker County Museum Research Library, Grand Park and Round Lake Townships had only one school district each. Lake Park and Hamden Townships each had six school districts. Today, Grand Park Township no longer exists, as it was annexed into Height of Land Township on Nov. 4, 1959. Most of what was Grand Park Township is now part of the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge.

Several of the Becker County country schools grew into numbers of 40 to 50 pupils at their height, and some school districts had a few more students. Of course, country schools only had students in first through eighth grades. If students wanted to continue on to high school, they had to travel to neighboring towns, often staying with relatives while school was in session.

The biggest years for country schools were from the 1870s until about the late 1940s. It was in the 1950s when many country schools started to see a drastic decline in students and consolidated with other country or city schools.

According to newspaper records located in the research library, there were 126 rural school districts in Becker County in 1915, 101 rural school districts in 1935, and 123 in 1943. The Great Depression was a big reason reason behind the decrease in the 1930s. Some country schools had to close during that era due to lack of funding, but many reopened again once funding was restored.

In total, there were 132 rural school districts in Becker County.