The lost history of Sanborn County one-room schools

The story of Floyd Township’s Hall

By Warren Thomas
A few will remember the letter several weeks ago to the editor in which I outlined the history of the demise of the state’s rural, one-room country schools. It is a bit of Sanborn County history from the ‘50s through the ‘70s that ought to be recorded. Is there any other account?
harmony hall    Sanborn Weekly Journal editor Hillary Lutter added an appropriate touch by including a picture of one of the many schools scattered throughout the county. The building she pictured is on the original Harmony Hall site. It is the Rhoads school, which has a rather unique history. For many decades, it stood on its original site three miles north of its resting place at the time of the photo.
Senate Bill 6, passed by the legislature in 1955, had accomplished its sole purpose of placing each one-room school and its surrounding land into one of our four independent districts. The Rhoads school, then vacant, was moved to the Forestburg School site where it joined the relocated Maurer school as adjuncts in the educational process there.
The details that follow pertain specifically to Floyd Township residents, but may interest other Sanborn County old-timers, as well.
After the Forestburg School closed in 1981, the Floyd Township Board obtained its former school building, perhaps at no cost, and moved it back north some 10 miles to the intersection of 224th Street and 408th Avenue. Back home in its former township, the well-traveled Rhoads school building became Harmony Hall II. That well-known site in Floyd Township is located in the apex of an angle between the Kathleen Zimmerman and the Carl Pearson residences. Present Floyd Township Board Clerk Jim Johannsen suggested that very likely the building was moved by Vernon Pearson on his haystack mover.

The Story of Harmony Hall Begins
The historical vignette taking my interest since Hillary’s Rhoads school picture is the story of the original Harmony Hall itself. The story appeared to be slowly disappearing. No one living has memory of its construction. In 1925, close neighbor Oliver Zimmerman was born the same year it was built, according to his wife, Grace. Living half a mile from the hall (as it was generally called), Grace, originally from the Huron area, provided my story’s beginning. Neighbors, many of them members of the Farmers Union Co-op headquartered in Huron, assisted in the building project. Businessmen from Huron, or at least Farmers Union money, Grace related, provided part of the financing.
Long-time resident John Maurer, who owned the NE1/4 of Section 29, 108-60, leased about one acre of his field for the benefit of his township friends. As pictured in an old photo, the Hall was constructed some four feet in the ground with half-length windows around the perimeter resting almost at ground level. I will guess that the structure was about 60 feet long and perhaps 24-30 feet wide. (See accompanying photo.)
A low stage filled the west end with “dressing” rooms in the southwest and northwest corners. Wooden benches formed two seating sections alongside a center aisle. At the rear in the southeast corner was a kitchen area. Perhaps a half dozen wide, concrete steps led up and out to where the double doors secured the entrance.
Township board meetings were held in the Hall as well as rural school YCL (Young Citizens’ League) activities, such as plays and spelling contests. Basket and pie socials were occasional. For younger readers, if any, for such social events, women brought tasty food baskets or pies to be auctioned for project fundraising. I recall hearing that George McGovern campaigned for the Senate there.
In vivid memory is a personal note from 1940. When our kerosene-fueled refrigerator caught on fire, we lost our house and our home. A bit later, kind neighbors assembled in the Hall to provide the Thomases with a kitchen and linen shower to replace our total loss. The Hall was also our voting place. Local readers may recall other events.
Roads were poor in the 1930s and ‘40s; cars often unreliable. Neighbors were near and many. Football and basketball games were unknown in the township although baseball was popular. Harmony Hall became a natural gathering place. So what caused its demise?

The Scene Changes
It was the decades-old South Dakota rural story. Tough economic conditions drove people from the farms. Having achieved more education than their parents, many young people moved elsewhere. When the “old folks” died, their land was absorbed by younger folks. Farmsteads vanished. Presently, within three miles of my home, a dozen vacant farmsteads have become someone else’s pasture or cropland. The Hall, not always painted and cared for the best, began moldering on the prairie.
On March 2, 1976, the annual township meeting was held at the township center. Things were not going well. Clerk Crandall recorded, “After a short discussion, it was decided to move up to Crandalls (Chester) do (sic) to a heating problem as a portion of the ceiling had fallen down…” Doubts, obviously, were arising. Renovation discussion began with the board being asked to see Maynard Edwards (carpenter neighbor) about “putting in three 5/8-inch rods with turn buckles in the Hall to hold it together.”
Nearly three months later, steel rods apparently forgotten, the May 26 board met to “decide what to do with Harmony Hall to make a better voting place.” From the record, it seems that few, if any, community members were in attendance when, “It was decided to tear down the Hall and rebuild it just south of the present structure on a cement slab.”
Action continued, when on June 3 of the same year, “Francis, Ray, Vernon and Chester met with the County Planning and Zoning Board members in the courthouse for information regarding a permit to tear down Harmony Hall and a permit to rebuild a building suitable for voting.” The next day during the June 4, 1976 township meeting, the board met a challenge.
Crandall records, “[Local unnamed resident] came along and said we wouldn’t get any help and it wouldn’t be legal and we didn’t have a permit to tear down the Hall.” The protesting neighbor was told that, “we had contacted the county assessor and could get a permit. It had been advertised in the Woonsocket paper.” However the dust-up appeared to deflate the board’s interest and action. The brief minutes continue, “After [resident] upset our plans, we decided not to do anything that day.”

Where Do We Go From Here?
For nearly a year, the board cooled its heels, until May of 1977 the board drove to Yale, SD “to look at a building 24×30 to be used for a voting place here, but found it was not suitable.” The next year’s February minutes (1978) cryptically announced, “A building for the twp (sic) was discussed and was decided to go look at a house on Friday, March 3.” Appearances suggest increasing interest in the future of Harmony Hall.
A month later on March 7, 1978 at the annual meeting, a more lengthy account appears as follows, “A building for voting in the twp was discussed. Harold Edwards made a motion to look into a schoolhouse down at Forestburg and see if one could be bought. (Two one-room country schools had been moved to the Forestburg School site).  This motion was second (sic) by Lyle Newman. Edward Bechen made motion to build a new building. Vernon Pearson second (sic) the motion.”
Action soon followed. Fixing the ceiling and installing steel rods forgotten, the board minutes record, “It was voted by ballot 9 for the schoolhouse (one of the one-room schools at Forestburg) and 7 for the new building.” No further discussion was shown.
At the annual election a year later, the March 6, 1979 minutes, now recorded by new clerk Jim Johannsen, show that board member Vernon Pearson reported that the schoolhouse in Forestburg could not be purchased. Reason: the Forestburg School was in operation and was using both country school buildings.
Fast forward about three years. Forestburg Independent School District closed its doors when the 1981 spring term ended. However, the matter of obtaining the now unused Rhoads school located on that site did not raise recorded discussion until considerable time had passed.
In the March 1982 annual meeting held in the Wenton Wormstadt home, a sketchy notice said, “Moving of a one room school house was discussed.” Had they voted to buy it? Nothing was recorded. At the April 12, 1982 board meeting it became obvious that negotiations between the Floyd Township Board and the Forestburg School Board had occurred, although  no official transaction was recorded. The story continued in late October of that year, where the minutes show that “warrants were issued for  materials and moving the school house.”

Rhoads School (Harmony Hall II) Returns
From what is recorded, there was no formal action relating to purchasing or being gifted the old Rhoads school, nor is the time of moving or by whom stated. But it appears that the Rhoads school, a.k.a. Harmony Hall II, came back to Floyd Township in the fall of 1982. The foundation must have been constructed, any desired renovation finished, and electricity installed prior to the March 2, 1983 board meeting.
At that time, acting clerk Ray Kempf recorded that, “Floyd Twp’s annual meeting and election was held for the first time in the school house.” At the same meeting, “It was agreed to insure the school house for $5,000 and check with Charles Graves (insurance agent) on the need for liability insurance.”
For several months Harmony Hall II and the original Hall shared the corner lot leased from John Mauer. Then in July of 1983 the board met to open two bids for demolishing the 1925 structure. The bids, both under $2,500, were rejected with the idea to “wait awhile.”
Wait awhile they did. Nearly two years later at the March 26, 1985 meeting, Johannsen records, “Harvey Coulthard and Randy Weber offered to tear down Harmony Hall, keep all of the salvage, and fill in the hole for $200. The board gave them the job with a warning on the burning of unsalvageable material.”
Filling in the hole has a bit of human interest to the story. John Mauer’s successor to the land on which the two Harmony Halls then sat was nephew Arnold Zimmerman, who farmed with and for John. Arnold’s widow, Kathleen, was later owner at the time of demolition. When the Woonsocket demolition crew needed additional dirt to fill the basement hole, soil from the nearby field looked suitable. Without asking landowner Kathleen’s permission, she told me, they were robbing her valuable topsoil to put in a hole. That is, until she straightened them out on trespassing and common courtesy issues!
For some 20 years the township board met periodically in member homes with the exception of the annual meetings in March at the Hall. Township clerk Johannsen mentions Harmony Hall II only sporadically from then on whenever the board voted on insurance, fencing, restroom (outhouse) inadequacies, general upkeep, etc.
At the March 2, 2004 annual meeting at Harmony Hall II, near-neighbor Tim Pearson, following discussion, “moved to sell the Hall with the condition that a marker be erected in its place and that the site be cleaned up. Rick (Bechen) seconded –– carried.” Apparently the board envisioned the structure being sold and moved. However, on April 17, 2004, Harmony Hall II was no more as any kind of community center. Kathleen Zimmerman’s single bid of $500 eliminated John Mauer’s long-time land lease to the township and returned the original ground and the building to her.  She has informed me that her son Vic of California now owns the former Harmony Hall II.

And Now?
So ends the 89-year-long history of Floyd Township’s community gathering place. But the memory lingers, though dimly.  Annual elections are now held jointly with other townships in the town of Artesian. Except for family gatherings, an occasional farm sale or a friendly chat across a neighbor’s fence, township community activities are a thing of the past.
Thank you, neighbors Grace and Kathleen Zimmerman for your information; and to township clerk Jim Johannsen — the long-time records Chester Crandall and you kept provided the dates so necessary to this story. Thank you, also. In the collective memories of the few “old timers” who remain will rest details of rural Floyd Township and Harmony Hall life of which I have no record. In reality, for the sake of history, we have asked questions far too late.
A nearly lifetime resident,
Warren Thomas

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