The Ottumwa Courier

April 30, 2014

Memories of the one-room schoolhouse

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — History abounded Tuesday evening as a program about one-room schoolhouses was held in a newly renovated railroad building.

The Wapello County Historical Society hosted Sarah Uthoff, a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and listmistress for the Country School Association of America. The society received funding from Humanities Iowa, a nonprofit state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, to bring Uthoff to Ottumwa.

The clubhouse audience Tuesday was filled with people who had either attended a one-room schoolhouse or taught in one. Uthoff has an extensive collection of photographs, keepsakes and other memorabilia from her research, and she had a slideshow presentation that walked its viewers through a day in a one-room school. She told stories about walking through the snow, starting the fire in the stove and bringing in water. Pictures of slates, dipping pony tails in the ink well and having to wear the dunce cap all brought smiles and memories.

"You have a blend of people — you have the older people who have their memories of (attending a one-room schoolhouse) and enjoy the time to share. For the younger people, it's things they've heard of," Uthoff said. "People seem to think of it as something out of the past, but really it has a lot of good ideas."

The Railroad Clubhouse is located next to the historical museum and was built in 1935. It became part of the Historic Railroad District listed on the National Historic Register in 2011. In 2013, the building and land was purchased by the Wapello County Historical Society, and extensive work has been done throughout.

Monthly programs for the public and board meetings are now being held in the building. Once the work is done, Board Secretary Mary Ellen Schmitz says, it will be opened for public use such as meetings and receptions.

"It's the only clubhouse on the Burlington Line. The employees themselves did all the building," said Schmitz. "(Monday) we had a few of the people who were original to that association here ... they were so pleased that we kept the building open. We were glad that they were pleased with our work."

Following the formal presentation, Uthoff opened the floor to anyone who had stories to tell or questions to ask. Many of those attending spoke about the history books available at the public library that chronicle one-room schoolhouses in Wapello County.

— Follow reporter Laura Carrell on Twitter @CourierLauraC

A way for you to help Sarah Uthoff is asking anyone who attended a one-room schoolhouse to fill out a noon meal survey. She is collecting information about what was eaten, what the favorite meals were, if there was any kind of hot food served and where and when the meal was eaten. She is also collecting letters from Laura Ingalls Wilder and photographs of Wilder sites. Uthoff is a Wilder historian, and her Laura letters will be deposited in the newly built archive room at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. More information on both of these projects is available at or by emailing