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Weekly Column

Each week a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers.


For the week of 9/16/2018
by Kristen Parrott, curator

The historic Foreaker School building at 606 W. Broadway in Viroqua begins to celebrate its 130th year this fall. The school is owned by Vernon County and operated as a museum by the Vernon County Historical Society. The wood frame structure was originally built on Pleasant Ridge in the Town of Liberty, replacing an earlier log school building at a nearby location.

The museum has a file on the school, as we do for every school, past and present, in the county. With quite a lot of information on the Foreaker, I thought it would be an easy thing to write a few paragraphs on the subject. But I soon found a number of conflicting dates, which led me to look for primary sources of information that would help clear up the questions.

Over the school door hangs a sign with the dates 1889-1959. Are these accurate? First, I looked at the 1889 date. The museum is fortunate to own the Foreaker School Treasurer’s book that was used from 1869 until 1959. The information is written in longhand, and here is what I was able to make out: On September 5, 1888, the school district paid $100 to James Marker for building the school house. On November 13, 1888, he was paid an additional $295 for building the school house.

On December 10, 1888, the school district paid $110 to Thomas Kane for seats and a teacher’s desk. And on January 1, 1889, $10 was paid to Ole Johnson for land for the school site. Why the land was paid for after the school had been built is a mystery to me, but the date of January 1 seems to be a formality. So, it looks like the school was built and furnished at the very end of 1888, and I’m guessing that it was first used by the schoolchildren in 1889.

Now for the second date of 1959. The last entry in the treasurer’s book is for June 30, 1959. But, we have a local newspaper article from April of 1960 headlined “Foraker School First to Join Viroqua District”, which describes the school as currently having five students. Also, a quick look at the county’s school directories shows us that the Foreaker School appeared for the last time in the 1959-1960 school directory. So, the treasurer must have used a separate book for the last year that the Foreaker School was in operation, which was the school year 1959-1960.

Even the spelling of the school’s name is questionable. Here at the museum we spell it “Foreaker”, but various other sources spell it as “Foraker,” “Foreakre,” or even “Four Acre”. In the 1994 Vernon County Heritage book, Pearl Boggs wrote that the school was named for the family that owned the land on which the original schoolhouse was built. (Pearl had a close association with the school, since she provided it with water and drove a school bus in the Foreaker’s final years.)

The Foreaker was moved into Viroqua in 1962 and turned into a museum. Today, schoolchildren visit in the spring and fall to experience a school day as students did long ago, in a one-room schoolhouse with a chalkboard and wooden desks.

The museum lacks old photos of the Foreaker School in its original location. If you have any photos, records, or other information about the Foreaker, contact the museum at 637-7396.


Foreaker School
Foreaker School, 606 W. Broadway St., Viroqua


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For the week of 9/9/2018
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Look for the Vernon County Historical Society’s booth at the Fair this week, inside the Expo building. In addition to the Vernon County history quiz, we are also featuring images from the World War I era. The WWI centennial commemoration will be concluding soon (the Armistice was signed on November 11), so this is the last year we’ll feature WWI at our Fair booth, at least for a while.

Children are back in school now, and being assigned new schoolbooks for the year. The museum has an abundance of old school textbooks once used in local schools – in fact, we have so many schoolbooks that we no longer accept any more as donations. They are interesting to look at, though.

For instance, the museum owns a copy of Robinson’s Progressive Primary Arithmetic, published in 1878. It is inscribed inside with “Property of De Soto Union School District, March 13th, 1879”. Most of the book contains simple word problems, which reveal a very different world from today’s.

Some of the questions are about school life: “If you make 10 marks on your slate, and rub out 1, how many remain?” and “If a slate pencil cost 1 cent, and an orange 3 cents, how many cents will both cost?”

Some are about transportation: “James rode 2 miles in the stage, and 4 miles in the cars; how far did he ride in both?” The “stage” would be a stagecoach, pulled by horses, and the “cars” would be railroad cars. For reference, the railroad arrived in Westby and Viroqua in 1879.

Many word problems refer to farming: “A farmer paid 10 dollars for a plow, and 5 dollars for a harrow; how much did he pay for both?” “Henry hoed 8 rows of corn one day, and 5 the next; how many rows did he hoe in both days?” “If one man can mow a field of grass in 18 days, in what time would 6 men mow the same?”

Other professions are also represented: “A miller sold 5 barrels of flour at one time, and 4 barrels at another; how many barrels did he sell in all?” “A cabinet maker asks 6 dollars for a rocking chair, and 6 dollars for a table; what is the cost of both?” “A drover bought 4 cows of one man, 3 of another, and 7 of another; how many cows did he buy in all?” “A tinner had 3 milk pails, and sold 2 of them; how many had he left?”

Some questions are about sewing, because most clothing and linens were made at home: “If a skein of silk costs 4 cents, and a yard of tape 6 cents, how much do both cost?” “A merchant sold 5 yards of calico at one time, and 5 at another; how many yards did he sell in all?” “Elizabeth gave 10 cents for three spools of thread, 3 cents for a thimble, and 9 cents for some needles; how many cents did she give for all?”

A few of the questions are a little sad: “Alfred fired into a flock of 12 wild pigeons, and killed 5 of them; how many flew away?” The writer probably meant passenger pigeons, a species that went extinct in the early 20th century because so many of them were killed by hunters in the 19th century.

And some questions are a little funny: “There are 12 sheep in a yard, and a dog bites all but 6 of them; how many does he bite?”

You can learn more than arithmetic from an old math book. There’s a whole history lesson to be had there!


Robinson's Arithmetic
Robinson's Progressive Primary Arithmetic


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The previous two articles:

September 2, 2018

August 26, 2018