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Walsh County Press
Park River , North Dakota
October 27, 2021     Walsh County Press
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October 27, 2021

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._,___,-.,.._.._.A.,.._. by... .l,_.,_.,..._.-. v... ,-.- a”, _, ,m ...._ .. .-. . . .W . WALSH COUNTY PRESS - WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 27, ZOZI Page 7 By David Larson for The Press Last month I promised an article on crime in Park River. As often happens, the criminals, a disorderly group by nature refused to cooperate. The article will appear when I have gotten the drunks, the axe mur— derer, the guy with the shotgun, and the clever thieves under control, the article will appear. I’ve noticed that a couple of contributors to “Park River Back When” have been curious about the his- tory of the ag school. This article and November’s will look at the agricultural school from its beginnings in 1912 to the middle of the 1920s. In December, the high point in Park River’s history. From our beginning in 1884 Park River always had a good school system. We built a solid brick school- house, kitty-comer from the Little Park, within two years. By 1892, the town had a first-class high school, one of only two in the county. The high school had a female principal, Effie Hayes, one of only one in the county. Three years later the brick school build- ing had expanded from four classrooms to eight and had a new steam heating system. The high school of— fered Latin, Chemistry, and four years of English. PRHS won several state titles in football and track. The city school system was continuously improving. But the most momentous change in local education during these years, and possibly in the entire history of the city occurred up on the Hill in September 1913, when the Walsh County Agricultural and Training“ School opened. .r. This new school was madepossible.when.thestate if, legislature passed the Gibbens Act in 1911. This act provided state funding for county-based schools whose goals were the practical training of young peo- ‘ bi ple particularly for the vocations of farming and teach- ing. Under the terms of the act, the state and county would provide free vocational education for residents of the county. It was not an overused piece of legis- lation; only two schools were established under its terms. The Benson County Agricultural School in Mad- dock lasted until the late 19505 or early 1960s. The Walsh County Agricultural and Training School (WCAS), operated from 1913 until it was absorbed into the Park River school district in 1972. [[Author’s comment: I earned a week or so of powerfiil street cred as a fresh college freshman when my private prep school friends learned I was a training school grad.]] The Gibbens Act mandated a two-step process for the organization of such an institution. First, a coun- ty-wide referendum had to approve the school’s construction and finding, then the County Commis- sioners were to decide its location, . The agricultural school question came before the voters in November 1912. The election results were surprising in several ways. The voters in this highly Republican county preferred the Democrat Woodrow Wilson for president. Moreover, the Socialist candi- date got three times as many votes as the Prohibitionist. Perhaps even more surprising: a heavily agricultural county barely approved the establishment of an agri- cultural school. The proposal was carried by only 50 votes, 1466-1416. Even more surprising: virtually al- most every agricultural precinct voted against the school, while the three largest towns voted heavily for it. Park River, which wanted the school, favored the measure 240-10. After the favorable vote, the County Commissioners promptly awarded the school to Park River. Money helped the decision along, so did property: Park Riv- er had already put up $1600 earnest money and offered options on ten possible sites. A quickly appointed board got quickly to work. By the beginning of May, the site had been secured, and building plans were approved. The new school was to be a brick structure, 86’x50’, with two upper stories and a full basement. From the top floor, the View of the Valley was spectacular. The building ended up costing much more than the orig- inal $20,000 estimate, but the townspeople made up the $15,000 difference. ‘ The construction crews were fast—they nearly met the November 15 deadline. By December 1913, work was complete except for the top floor, and stu— dents and staff occupied the building. The incoming students must havebeen the envy of every other high schooler in the state. The floors were hard maple throughout. The entire building was heated by steam. There was running water on-demand —— hot and cold. Modern lavatories were connected to a large septic tank. The domestic science room was equipped with large gas-heated ranges. The list of modern features ran on. The new facilities were, in short, palatial in comparison to the local high school’s. The building was very modern; the curriculum was deliberately different. WCAS was to be a practical, vo- cational, school, in which all thinking was intimate- ly tied to practical application. The curriculum had no . Latin or Chemistry, nor, in the first year, even any Eng- lish apart from a basic grammar course. There were four main courses of study. The ped— agogy curriculum led to a second—class teaching cer- s: V \{r-JJ 9: m Photos: Submitted Top: The campus of the Walsh county Agricultural School. Middle: The main building was ready for use in December 1913. This looks like they are finishing up conctruction — maybe summer, 1914. Bottom: Credit and deep thanks for the military drill photo should go to Alice Midgarden Moe. Her father, Alfred, (Russell, Alice, Paul, and Joe's father) was one of the original students in 1913. tificate. Domestic science stressed cooking and sewing. There was also a manual training option, but this was closely associated with the major reason for the school’s being, agricultural training. . . Presiding over the frenetic efforts to organize a new school ex nihilo was the superintendent. William A. Broyles was hired at the end of May to preside over a school that would open its doors in four months. When Broyles signed his contract, the school had no doors to open — for that matter, it had no building at all, nor a curriculum, nor any teachers, nor students. Broyles secured a large part of the city hall for tem- porary classroom space. He located a teaching staff. Broyles himself was both the superintendent and the agronomy teacher. George Hargreaves was appoint- ed for manual training, Bena Hanson was hired for teacher training, and Florence Sly for domestic sci- ence. In addition, the superintendent of the city school, MH Agarn, agreed to teach psychology and pedagogy to the teacher training students. Broyles’ wife, Bertha, was the school’s first secretary. , In that same busy summer, Broyles also put together a curriculum in a neat booklet that described the school, its purpose, and its courses of study. And he visited in every comer of the county trying to interest parents in enrolling their children in a program of education that was, first and always, practical. He was rather successful. When Broyles ad- dressed the students at the first chapel service on Sep- tember 15, 1913, he was greeted by 78 faces. The num— ber quickly rose to 90, for many potential students were burdened with the practical need of keeping the fam— ily farm functioning. First, the harvest work got fin- ished, then came the luxury of a practical education. For those who didn’t have the time for a full year of schooling, the school offered the Short Course (about a week of practical education), or the Long Course (in- tense practical education in mid-winter for about 2 1/2 months). Broyles coped with overwhelming problems in opening the new school, but his first annual report was less than glowing in its evaluation of the year’s ex- periences. His report read at one point: ' “The county agricultural school has met with some difficulty in the formation of a curriculum that would meet the needs of the school and at the same time coordinate with the curriculum of the high school at Park River.” Every word in Broyle’s statement is easily under- standable English, nevertheless, its meaning is not at all clear—as Broyles no doubt desired. Once you have read this rhetoric several times a general conclusion seems to emerge—things did not go at all Well in the first year. Broyles’ report provided veiled hints that some of the students were not very mature. There was an ex- treme age difi‘erentiation; the youngest student was 14, the oldest 23. Most of them were away from home for the first time, and there were neither dormitories nor any counseling assistance to help them cope with iso- lation. All the agricultural students took the first-year curriculum, no matter how advanced they may have been because there were neither the faculty nor the fa- cilities to teach sophomore-level courses. How, Broyles asked circumspectly in his year-end report, are we to teach Dairying (a sophomore course) if the school has neither cows nor a dairy barn? Broyles went on to mention other situations that needed to be overcome; there was no physical edu- cation for girls, no music training, ‘no literary work, nor enough social events. During the entire school year, there had been only two social events, and one of those had been organized for those who enrolled in the Short Course. It was a strange report: it listed the shortcomings of the first school year but made few suggestions about what ought to be done in the upcoming and filer years. Broyles’ reticence might have been due to the Chairman of the County School’s board, an irascible, opinionated, power-seeking, and intrusive local lawyer, E. Smith-Peterson. Though the situation is not apparent from newspaper articles or from reports to the state commissioner, Smith—Peterson seems to have ruled the school until his death in 1918, a five—year au- tocracy. As the second school year opened in 1914 at least two problems had been addressed. There was now a Days of Park River Past: The beginnings of WCAS teacher of Dairy and Horticulture. And over the sum- mer, Mr. Hargreave, the manual arts teacher had fin- ished off part of the empty upper floor, providing more classrooms in addition to the as-yet-unfinished as- sembly room. The facilities improved. There was, though, disastrous decline in enrollment at the beginning of year two, a strong confirmation that things had not gone well in the first year. Only 36 stu— dents showed up for the opening day registration. That figure of 36 was one of the very few times that specific enrollment figures were mentioned. One has to conclude that the officials of the County School (most probably E. Smith-Peterson) were embar- rassed and infuriated by the enrolhnent numbers in the earliest years and took pains to conceal them. Even in the first-year report, Supt. Broyles clouded the fig- ures, reporting an enrollment of 126, a figure which cannot possibly represent the situation at a particular point in time. Granted that a number of students dropped out during the year (though Broyles noted that none were expelled), a total of 126 isn’t consistent with “about 25” in teacher training, and “about 30” in the agricultural track. These figures left only the domes- tic science track, whose enrollment was “consistent”. Broyles must also have included registrants in the Long Course, which met only for three winter months. In February 1915 second semester enrollment was over 80, but only 29 of them were enrolled in the four-year program. Enrollment levels perked up by the fourth year and they were reported much more candidly. At the be- ginning of the 1916-17 year, Broyles announced an opening—day enrolhnent of 40, which predictably rose, to 64 by late October, the “largest in history.” The city high school, by contrast, began with 92 students in the opening week. WCAS enrollment was growing, but it wasn’t until 1923 that the school could claim an en- rollment of 100+ full-time students. The agricultural school was also very successful, after the first year, in developing a curriculum that lived up to the school’s motto of “Hands and Brain.” The student work that was reported in the local newspa- ‘ pers either met a need of the school or developed stu- dents’ skills. Ideally, they did both. When a set of In- dian clubs came in for use in physical education class- es, the boys in the blacksmithing class made a set of wall holders for them. When it became evident dur- ing the school’s first semester that it was very incon- venient for teachers and students to have to walk near- ly a half-mile to get a hot meal during the noon hour, the domestic science class began planning and prepar- ing dinners for the students and staff. The boys in the engineering class restored Ole Thorson’s Studebak- er, and they not only refurbished a bull tractor but also used it to level the grounds to the east of the school building. Superintendent Broyles did a fine job in getting the agricultural school started. The initial teaching staff was 4; Broyles got that number increased to 7 by the beginning of the school’s fourth year. He increased en- rollment and established close relations with the state agricultural college. He was so talented, in fact, that after school had started in October 1916, Texas- A&M University offered him a teaching position. It was very abrupt. The same issue of the local paper that reported his resignation also reported a farewell par- ty and the Broyles’ departure for Texas. His rapid departure left the school in a difficult po- sition: school had started and there was no principal. The board located a replacement, Fredrick Oldenburg, rather quickly. A week later he settled his family into their new home and began his work. Four months lat- er he resigned “to continue graduate work” at the Uni- versity of Wisconsin—in the middle of the spring se- mester. Administrative instability plagued the institution for the next three years. In other ways, the new school made much progress in its first four years. The curriculum stabilized and some “academic” courses were added, like English and “Norse”. There were more agricultural courses offered than ever before, the students and teachers got nutri- tious noontime meals, a girls’ gym class was finally organized. The Short Course and the Long Course at- tracted many participants. As to the number of full- time students, the press release early in the fifth year of operation stated that “enrollment was grong ,week— ly,” but made no mention of specific figures. ' WCAS’ situation began to improve rapidly in the early 1920s, but that must wait until next month’s ar— . ticle.