Union School in the 1850s

Union School in the 1850s

The Minneapolis school district recently occupied its new headquarters on Broadway Avenue, which marks the first time in district history that it's had a scratch-built headquarters to call home.

That led this reporter to wonder just how many years that history goes back

The answer isn't simple

The problem is that you can make the case for any number of years to date the beginning of Minneapolis public schools. But here's what we dug out, with a big help from the folks in Special Collections at the downtown library.

If you’re an East Sider, you could count from 1850, when the first public school opened on the St. Anthony side of the river.  That’s according to “History of Minneapolis,” edited by Judge Isaac Atwater, and published in 1895.

If you live west of the river, you can date the first public school to late 1852, although sources differ on whether it opened on Dec. 3 (Horace Hudson’s “A Half Century of Minneapolis,” 1908) or Dec. 30 (Atwater.)

That’s for opening public school buildings. But when it came to organizing what Hudson describes “the real foundation of the public school system,” a town meeting was held in November, 1855. Those attending resolved to build a “properly graded” school building on half of what is now the courthouse site. Union School opened in 1858.

You could even make a case for dating the district to 1878, or six years after the cities of Minneapolis and St. Anthony merged.  The two school systems followed suit that year.  

(You could also make a case that public education began with the Indian mission school that was established by the Pond brothers in 1836 at Lake Harriet. But available evidence suggests that it was a more of a parochial school.)

We checked with several long-timers at the district and none of them could remember the district marking any of those dates.  “I think I would have remembered,” remarked Judy Farmer, a 27-year board member.

The 2008 sesquicentennial anniversary of the organization of municipal government in Minneapolis was occasion for various activities ranging from old-time ballgames to road signs marking the original town boundaries to a reunion of living council members. Marking the 150th, or arguably the 160th, anniversary of public schooling in Minneapolis could offer all sorts of related activities for students to be integrated into curriculum.