From 1852 until the teacher's bell clanged signaling the dismissal of the final class nearly a century later, the Valley School No. 34 was the little white wooden building where generations of kids in Denmark Township were introduced to the perplexities of algebra, cursive letters and, sometimes, their future spouses.
Now, the graying schoolhouse on the hillside has taken its place alongside Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the James J. Hill Mansion in St. Paul on the National Register of Historic Places.
"This fine piece of Washington County's tangible history deserves the recognition of the National Register," said Denis Gardner, the state's National Register supervisor.
The National Park Service decision culminates years of hopes, struggles and fundraising by the Denmark Township Historical Society — which took ownership of the building last year — and marks another milestone in the group's efforts to save and transform the building.
The society's board members are now interviewing architects and interpretive planners, as well as looking for a part-time staff person to guide them through the restoration process, according to Mavis Voigt, spokeswoman for the group.
Listing on the register not only confers formal recognition of the building's historical importance, but in a practical way, it also opens up venues for raising money — from sources such as the Minnesota Legacy Fund and other preservation groups — to supplant the private donations on which the local historical society had been relying.
There are more than 40 sites in Washington County listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They include more than 80 buildings in downtown Stillwater's commercial district, the wood-framed Cushing Hotel in Afton (now the Afton House Inn) that once housed lumbermen, railroad workers and travelers in the St. Croix Valley and the Coredenio Severance House (Cedarhurst Mansion) in Cottage Grove, designed by state Capitol architect Cass Gilbert and visited by four presidents.
Last month, floodwaters severely damaged one site on the register, the Grey Cloud Limestone Kiln in Cottage Grove, causing three sides of it to collapse. Its place on the register is going to reassessed.
A gathering spot
The Valley School replaced a log schoolhouse that had been in use for six years before burning down. It is significant among the state's remaining one-room schoolhouses because it (and its two outhouses) has remained on the same site near the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers since its construction in the once-thriving lumber village of Point Douglas, which is now a ghost town. Besides a school, the building was also the main community gathering spot for what remains a very rural part of Washington County. After World War II, the school district was consolidated, and the students attended school in Hastings. The last class was dismissed in 1946.
"Dating to the period before Minnesota became a state, the property is a distinctive example of a time when small, modest schoolhouses dominated our rural landscape, serving as venues of higher learning for so many," Gardener said in describing the significance of the school. "Unlike many one-room schools that have survived the decades, Valley School continues to reflect its historic purpose. In other words, it has barely changed over the last 162 years."
The building was the property and meeting place of the Point Douglas Woman's Club from 1946 to 1978, when members sold it to a family in the floor-covering business who used it for carpet storage. No structural changes were made. The schoolhouse still has its tin roof and blackboards.
The historical society has been holding free public programs on historic topics, and two are coming up this fall.
Former Valley School students will share their memories and stories at 7 p.m. September 16 at Denmark Town Hall, 14008 90th Street. And a Vintage Farm Machinery and Tool Show is scheduled for noon-4 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Denmark Town Hall Park.