Construction workers in New Prague unearthed a lead box last month that is shedding light on a conundrum school district officials are facing — just as their predecessors did more than 90 years ago.
The box turned out to be a time capsule. Inside, school district administrators and a city historian found documents and letters from 1922 to 1923 detailing the district’s need for $100,000 to serve the area’s growing student population.
New Prague voters approved a $58.48 million bond referendum in 2015, which includes a middle school renovation, a larger cafeteria and a new gym for the district.
Construction workers, along with Craig Most, director of operations for the school district, discovered the time capsule on June 20 while demolishing the former high school built in 1923. The high school is being taken down to make way for an early childhood and community education center.
“When this high school was constructed it was a big game-changer for the community and the children,” Dennis Dvorak, founder of the New Prague Historical Society, said.
The capsule is now in the hands of Dvorak.
To the school board, in Czech
Upon opening the rusted box, Dvorak was amazed at what he found inside.
Along with newspaper clippings from the New Prague Times, photos of students and coins, Dvorak noted a letter revealing the city’s deep Czechoslovakian roots. In 1922, the superintendent, F.E. Critchett, had written a letter to the board of education asking for financial support to build the new high school. He had written one letter in English and another in Bohemian — the Czech language spoken by many of the residents in the community.
In the letter, the superintendent described the district’s schools as badly overcrowded with an assembly room containing 102 seats for 144 students.
“Should the legislature pass a law this coming winter requiring attendance at school until 18, as now seems probable, all schools will have a large increase,” Critchett wrote in the letter.
The school district plans on framing the 1922 letter from the superintendent in the district office.
The box also contained an aerial photo of the city from the Minneapolis Tribune on Aug. 7, 1923, and a student roster with names of families that still reside in the city.
“All the years I have been here, I’ve never seen an aerial from that early of a period,” Dvorak said.
While looking through the student roster, Most found the name of someone in his own extended family.
“One of them happened to be my wife’s great-uncle,” he said.
A time for the public to see
Another surprising discovery was a picture of the girls’ basketball team. Most said he had not heard of a girls’ team that far back.
In the photos taken in 1923, 10 girls sit surrounding a basketball with their hair pinned back and wearing their school uniforms. The girls would play on the second floor of the town dance hall, Dvorak said.
Newspaper clippings included in the box featured stories on New Prague’s need for a new high school and its famous mill for Robin Hood Flour.
The mill brought wealthy families into town. Dvorak said the newspapers also wrote stories whenever someone took a train into the Twin Cities.
Dvorak will hold an exhibition for the time capsule in the New Prague Memorial Library following Labor Day. The exhibition has already piqued interest in the town, said Dvorak.
“History is always unfolding,” he said.