Imagine Northeast Iowa

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Iowa’s Oldest School Building: Locust School North of Decorah
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Iowa’s Oldest School Building: Locust School North of Decorah

LOCUST-- Due to the thoughtful the hindsight of the Winneshiek County Historical Society, who own and operate the Locust School house, everyone can go back in time and see history come alive. The school stands as a testiment to the time when when one-room school houses were a part of regular Iowa life, equipped with outhouses and wood stoves. This particular schoolhouse is known for being the only one in Iowa to have held classes continuously for 106 years! And the best part? It’s practically right out our back door! 

This historical treasure, built in 1854, is not just for the older folks who remember the one room school house fondly, but also for the school children can enjoy the history of having the oldest school building in the state right here in northeast Iowa. The Locust School is just ten miles north of Decorah in the town of Locust.

Elaine Hegg of Calmar remembers fondly her days at the Country Locust School. Elaine’s sixth grade class was one of the last classes to attend the school, making the school dear to her heart. In 1955 the school ceased being an “all grades” school. In the final years, it was used as the lower elementary for the western half of Pleasant Township. The Locust School closed in May 1962, and the following fall, all of the children in the area were bused to school in Decorah. Elaine remembers how hard it was to adjust from a one room classroom of twenty-five students to a large school with many rooms. Now, each year she is in charge of the old fashioned school pageant with a pie auction  at the county school, still nestled among the rolling hills and scenic bluffs north of Decorah. The event takes place yearly around Labor Day weekend.

If you haven’t seen this "National Register of Historic Places" gem, it is open summer weekend afternoons from 1-4 beginning on the first Saturday in June until the last weekend in August. It is also open to groups by appointment. Many schools groups tour the building each year and sometimes even conduct a class or two with the old school books on the shelves, using individual chalkboards for students, making history come alive.

Pack a picnic and take the family to a trip back in history this summer. Locust School is located at 1640 Big Canoe Road, Decorah.

More about schoolhouses, historic
  1. KathyB
    The next visit to Decorah, I will have to go to Locust. Is this the same as Locust Lane? My 2nd Great-Grandfather John Frohrip took his Mother, Maria Frohriep to Locust Lane in 1862 after the Dakota Uprising in MN. His oldest sister Mary Dresselhause lived there and Maria remained there with Mary and her family until her death in 1887-8. I have visited the lovely little cemetery where she is buried but have not yet gone to see the area where they lived. I am trying to find out as much information on them as I can possibly find. Hoping to come in the spring/summer and meet a cousin there. Any ideas for me?
    1. Joyce Meyer
      Joyce Meyer
      Put something on Facebook under groups Decorah & historic Drcorah or put an ad on the Decorah newspaper. Good luck!
  2. kyleg2019
    Sorry to say it, but there is an older Iowa school - and it is still in use! In Bellevue, Iowa (which lies directly along the Mississippi River south of Dubuque) the main building of Bellevue Elementary School was built in 1848 as the Jackson County Courthouse. The building held two classrooms starting in 1849, and entirely became a school building when the county seat moved to Maquoketa, Iowa. The stately brick building stands mostly unchanged today, still holding classrooms and students - for the past 169 years! Bellevue is looking to build a new elementary as the old building is in need of extensive renovation and no longer serves the needs of students nearly two centuries after it's construction. Here's a link to a recent photo

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