Rural Schools of Marshall County: A History (2023)

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The old Le Grand Public School building is pictured shortly after its completion in 1871.

Editor's note: This is the first part of a Times-Republican Education Corner series about some of the area's district schools. The series will examine the history and formation of schools, as well as the challenges they face in the modern era.

Well over a century has passed since the first white settlers came to what is now Marshall County. When they arrived, they set about creating important institutions for modern cities: streets, housing, shops, churches and schools.

Since then, there have been tremendous changes in education in the state. Three rural school districts in the county – West Marshall, East Marshall and Green Mountain-Garwin – each have their own unique stories. The story also shows some patterns shared by the regions.

Previous actions, current effects

Each of the West Marshall, East Marshall and Green Mountain-Garwin areas has its own origin story. Although unique in their own ways, there are also clear patterns that emerge when it comes to the timing of mergers between and among small schools.

Rural Schools of Marshall County: A History (1)

FEATURED PHOTO - People and carriage pose outside St. The Anthony Consolidated School building, which opened in 1913 and closed in 1957. The building has since been destroyed.

As references in the book "The Continuing History of Marshall County Iowa, 1997" suggest, residents of some of the communities that lost students or entire school buildings to consolidation opposed merging into larger districts.

"The small town people that we were ... thought the consolidation probably wasn't good for us because we would lose our school," said 34-year Marshalltown Schools teacher and current Green Mountain-Garwin substitute teacher Julie Lang. "There are positives and negatives, as with everything."

Lang said she grew up in Van Cleve, east of Melbourne. The small town was eventually added to the Marshalltown School District and its local building was closed.

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Lang said Van Cleve, like some communities in the West Marshall, East Marshall and GMG school districts, could not keep up with the educational and facility needs needed for student success.

He said the first wave of consolidations in the late 1800s and early 1900s came as a result of the merger of county schools. In the 1940s and beyond, she said, consolidation caused schools in smaller towns to lose out to those in larger towns, such as State Center, Le Grand and, in her case, Marshalltown.

Gary Cromb of the Iowa State Library's State Data Center said the state's population saw steady growth during those time periods.

"Iowa's population in general has always had slow and steady population growth," he said, noting that it predates the agricultural crisis of the 1980s.

He said international immigration from places like Germany and Ireland was the key to population growth in the early and mid-20th century to what it is today. The arrival of the Baby Boomer generation also contributed to the state's population growth.

Cromb said it can sometimes be difficult to look at historical population data because the methods of collecting information were different than they are now.

Western Marshall

Today, it covers the black and gold of West Marshall Community School District State Center, home to all of its educational buildings, as well as Melbourne, Rhodes, St. Anthony, Clemons, and LaMoille.

The modern district was created in 1962 after an election held to consolidate several independent districts in West Marshall, according to "Continuing History."

The first small schoolhouses appeared in the area in the 1860s in Rhodes and State Center. LaMoille followed suit in 1870. Then began a first wave of school consolidation in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Unified Schools of Rhodes began in 1883 and combined students from various schools in the area. The same happened in State Center in 1909 and in LaMoille and Melbourne around 1914-15, according to "Continuing History."

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That's how it was in western Marshall County for a few decades. Another wave of consolidation came in the post-World War II period. Minerva Consolidated School merged with State Center in 1945, and LaMoille did the same in 1955. Rhodes and State Center merged in 1961, shortly before the eventual formation of West Marshall in 1962.

The formation of the present district did not immediately mean the end of local school buildings in the other towns. But as the years passed and new educational additions appeared in State Center, other towns began to lose their school buildings.

The final blows came in 1979 with the closing of the Clemons school building and in 1983 with the closing of the Melbourne school.

According to "Continuing History", there was resentment among some citizens in the smaller towns around State Center when it came to consolidation.

"The citizens of Rhodes strongly opposed the closure (of the local school) because they foresaw negative effects on the town, but they failed," it said.

Eastern Marshall

Across the county, the purple and gold East Marshall Mustangs have become much more recent. This district currently serves the communities of Le Grand, Gilman, Laurel, Quarry, Dillon, Dunbar and Ferguson.

East Marshall was founded in 1992, according to "Continuing History." Before that there were a few waves of consolidation.

The first school in Le Grand was established in the mid-1850s. In 1871, it was clear that more space was needed for students, so a two-story brick schoolhouse was built on the northeast side of town.

A three-story building was built in 1916 to accommodate even more students, but it burned sometime in the seven years that followed. A replacement building was constructed and opened in 1924 and continues to serve as part of East Marshall High School.

As with West Marshall, some communities lost schools as a result of consolidation. The Dillon School closed in 1955 and the nearby Rock Valley School ran from 1862-1954.

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Ferguson originally had a two-room schoolhouse before consolidating with nearby schools in 1915. The last class to graduate from Ferguson was in 1960, and then school was for third- and fourth-graders at Le Grand-Dunbar-Ferguson School ( LDF). district and later East Marshall. In the 2010s, Ferguson's school also closed.

There was a consolidated school in Dunbar from 1922-1958. The building continued for a time to serve fourth through sixth grades for the LDF district before it was closed.

The towns of Laurel and Gilman continue to serve East Marshall's elementary and middle school students, respectively. Laurel saw a new brick schoolhouse built in 1920 and in 1951 a new high school was built.

Change came for Laurel in 1963 when it consolidated with Gilman's school district and part of Jasper County's Mariposa Township to form the South East Marshall County District (SEMCO). This district was combined with the LDF for a few years until East Marshall was formed in 1992.

The first school building in Gilman lasted from the 1870s until 1908 when a fire destroyed it. The following year the building was replaced and has since been renovated. It is the current building of East Marshall Middle School.

Green Mountain-Garwin

The GMG School District spans eastern Marshall County and western Tama County. Green Mountain, the small community just northeast of Marshalltown, experienced many of the same pressures as other towns in Marshall County in the 19th and 20th centuries.

According to "Continuing History," students in the Green Mountain area attended a one-room schoolhouse just north of the current school site prior to 1921.

It was in September of that year that voters decided to approve the creation of the Green Mountain Independent School District. This decision followed two previous failed attempts to create the district.

In 1952, a major resolution was passed authorizing the construction of a building to house fourth through sixth graders and the superintendent's office for $120,000.

Things remained fairly stable for the small-town school over the next several decades, according to "Continuing History." Then, in 1992, the present-day Green Mountain-Garwin district was formed when the two communities' schools merged "after much discussion."

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Today, Green Mountain houses the district's elementary through sixth grade students, while Garwin houses the middle/high school.

From one- and two-room schoolhouses on the plains in the early 20th century to multi-story, multi-building school campuses today, Marshall County's rural schools continue to change over time.

FEATURED PHOTO – The old Le Grand Public School building is pictured shortly after its completion in 1871.
FEATURED PHOTO – People and carriage pose outside St. The Anthony Consolidated School building, which opened in 1913 and closed in 1957. The building has since been destroyed.

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What are the challenges facing rural schools? ›

Those challenges include high transportation costs, difficult teacher recruitment and retention, a large percentage of students in poverty, facilities funding gaps and a lack of professional development opportunities for staff.

How many rural schools are there in the US? ›

About one-third of the approximately 100,000 public schools in the United States in 2010–11 were located in rural areas (32,000), more than in suburbs (27,000), cities (26,000), or towns (14,000).

What is the history of Marshall County? ›

Present-day Marshall County was created by the Alabama legislature on January 9, 1836, from Cherokee land acquired in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. The county was named in honor of John Marshall, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835.


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