BURNS, Wis. – The public is being invited Sept. 7 to see and celebrate a little schoolhouse that beat the odds.
One-room schools have vanished from the Wisconsin countryside in recent years. But the Striped School north of Bangor is standing – and thriving. The school has a new foundation and a fresh coat of paint. It also has the unwavering support of the Striped Strivers 4-H Club.
“It’s a piece of history,” said Linda Saley, who has led the Striped Strivers for decades and attended the Striped School in the 1950s and 1960s. “People back then used to say that us country kids were dumb. But I wouldn’t have traded my years in that school for all the tea in China.”
Built in 1859, the schoolhouse served farming families along Burns Creek for more than a century. It was a different world when the school was built. The state of Wisconsin was rugged and wild at 11 years old; the Civil War was still two years away.
Through storms and floods the schoolhouse survived the ravages of time, standing near what is now the intersection of Wisconsin Highway 162 and Niedfeldt Road. It closed in 1963 when its remaining students, including Saley, were absorbed by neighboring school districts.
“We played softball when I was in school, and every once in a while somebody would hit it into the creek,” she said.
Norman and Phyllis Berg in 2011, then owners of the property, donated the school and its postage stamp of a yard to the Striped Strivers. A few years ago the club arranged for the building to be moved about 20 feet onto a concrete slab where it would be less susceptible to the swampy meanderings of Burns Creek.
The schoolhouse was in 2013 added to La Crosse County’s register of historic places after extensive renovation. From 1973 to 2005 its walls didn’t see a paintbrush. It was grim and gray when the Striped Strivers earned a grant to renovate it. When they finished the school looked less like a real-life arrangement of wood and glass – and more like the bucolic backdrop of a Norman Rockwell painting.
That’s the way Saley remembers it; she said she wants to keep it that way. The Striped Strivers are continuing to raise money so the school will never again fall into disrepair.
The ironic thing is, she said, when she was in school she took any chance she could to leave. One of her schoolmates frequently set the school’s woodshed on fire, she said, so he and everyone else could stay home for a few days.
And while Saley never wanted anybody to suffer, she said, she would silently root for her schoolmates to contract mumps or measles. If fewer than 10 students arrived for school the teacher would cancel classes. And then Saley could play in the snow.
“We had some exciting times,” she said. “We had some fond little memories.”
An open house will be held at the school from 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 7 near the intersection of Wisconsin Highway 162 and Niedfeldt Road, Burns.