By WCHAS President, Randy Domer
Blue Bell School
Less than a century ago, one-room schoolhouses were numerous in rural areas and Winnebago County certainly had its share. Although now vacant, many still stand as a reminder to the days when they provided a much-needed service to folks living well outside our cities, towns and villages. Farm communities relied on these small but important institutions to educate their children during a time when transportation was in its early stages, particularly in the undeveloped, rural areas. One such school was located just outside Omro near the intersection of what today is County Trunk E and Highway 116.
The Blue Bell School was built in 1866 and opened its doors to the first class that fall. It’s originally proposed name was “Bell School”, but that couldn’t be used because Winnebago County already had another Bell School located in the western part of the township.
Local historian and resident of nearby Pickett, Bernie Egan, remembers attending class at Blue Bell School in the 1940s. His father, Gerald, recalls riding his horse to school each day, then slapping it on the rump sending it back home alone. It also was common back then for school to close for one day to allow students and their families to attend the Winnebago County Fair.
In 2010, a committee of folks from the Omro area who attended this school published their remembrances. You can find their stories in the book “BLUE BELL SCHOOL – Memories of a one-room country school”. Some of those remembrances will be included in future newsletters.
Records indicate the site on which the school was built, rented for $1. It was eventually purchased for the sum of $30. In 1869, another quarter of an acre of land was purchased for $25; added as the playground. Teachers the first year included Mrs. Tuttle (14 days), C.H. Marshall (3 months) and Miss Luther who taught summer classes.
The community worked to furnish and make improvements to the school; a well was dug by hand and purchases made of new desks, curtains, a flag with staff, blackboard, bookcase, and fencing for the schoolyard. In 1929, the bell used to start the school day and call the kids in from recess was added.
Over the years, there were occasions when there weren’t enough students to hold class. When this occurred, what students there were, attended classes at Omro and Waukau schools. Due to low enrollment, the school actually closed in 1906 and reopened in 1918.
Class sizes at Blue Bell School varied from year to year, averaging between six and eleven students until 1931, when enrollment rose to seventeen and then twenty-four for the next term. Classes were taught through the 8th grade level. Many grades only had one pupil so some lessons were combined.