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SPOTLIGHT

Rush County Historical Society board member Brad Penka moves out of the way as the one-room Pleasant Point school house and an escort leading the way approach a turn to the school’s final resting spot in Grass Park in La Crosse.

School settles in on new foundation

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By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

LA CROSSE -- For 18 miles, Robert Kuhn guided his Freightliner truck over Rush County backroads, slowing for intersections and stopping for power lines crossing the roads.

He was pulling precious cargo, tall enough to require Midwest Energy employees to lift power lines as the Pleasant Point schoolhouse passed underneath, en route to its new home as part of the Rush County Historical Society's cluster of historical museums.

The one-room school house hailed from 6 miles south of Nekoma, where it served as the district's schoolhouse for decades.

"The school was started in the late 1800s," said Brad Penka, a member of the Rush County Historical Society's board of directors and the official photographer for the transfer.

It's unclear if the schoolhouse is the original building or a replacement, he said.

"We know it is very early 20th century," he said of the building's age, still in remarkably good shape save for a few broken windows.

It perhaps was built around 1920, although wiring inside the building appears to have been upgraded.

The building also comes with a number of original desks and a slate chalkboard, along with a number of bookshelves -- including many of the books that long sat on those shelves.

"Quite a few books," Penka said.

The school and its contents were donated to the historical society by Colleen Messersmith, who had been married to a Seltman in the area south of Hargrave.

The school, Penka said, "had been a part of the Seltman family. A lot them went to school there."

That closeness prompted many of them to provide upkeep and care for the school.

But as the family members with close ties to the school aged, he said, they became concerned future generations wouldn't retain that affection and decided to ultimately donate it to serve as a building to house the county's education museum.

"We're going to restore it, and it's going to be available to teachers" who want to bring their students in for a half-day or even a full day of experiencing education in a one-room schoolhouse setting.

It also will pay tribute to Howard Barnard, namesake of the Barnard Library in La Crosse, who started what he described as a college south of McCracken.

"It was the first consolidated school in the area," Penka said.

How long it takes to restore remains a big question, although the society has applied for grants to help pay for the work.

Penka said they're going to push to get the building cleaned up and open at least in time for the all-schools Fourth of July reunion that takes place in Grass Park, the green space surrounding the museums. As many as 1,000 former students will be attending.

With good weather Feb. 18, Penka said the building was lowered from the network of steel I-beams used to transport the schoolhouse onto the dressed limestone-and-concrete-block foundation that had been prepared for it.

* * *

The school joins three other historical society museums -- post rock, rural banking and the historical society itself -- as well as the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, which is separately owned.

It joins two other buildings from the Nekoma area, the former Nekoma State Bank building, housing the rural banking museum, and the rock house, which houses the post rock museum. The historical society museum in located inside the former Timken Santa Fe Railroad depot museum building.

The museums are closed for the season but will reopen May 1. Details are available online under the history tab at www.rushcounty.org.

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