We thought it might be interesting to our readers to know the history of how we got into this hobby and how it got to where we are today. Our initial entry into the hobby is noted on our masthead but the story developed quickly after we began our photography.
On our first trip to Racine, WI, in March 2003 we took back roads and came across three schools, which was quite exciting for a first outing. That summer we began going to various places in the Cedar Rapids, IA, area and counties around C.R. where we heard about schools or knew about some previous to taking up the hobby. And we sometimes even stumbled across some in our travels around Iowa. This search continued on into 2004 (and actually continues to this day!)
In the summer of 2004 we began a trip along the National Road, and we followed the original trace wherever possible. Due to a mechanical failure we had to end the trip at the Ohio/Indiana border, but in 2005 we started where we left off and continued to Vandalia, IL. During this 2-trip tour we came across several old schools. During these years we also took trips to our home areas in Ohio and found old schools along the way.
In 2005 the Cedar Rapids, IA, Gazette had an article about an old wooden school near Garrison which was going to be torn down if no one wanted it; we then went to photograph it. While talking about this to a supervisor at work, he told me about the Stony Point School west of Cedar Rapids so we went there. That fall the Gazette had another article about an old wooden school NE of Cedar Rapids that was offered up, and we went to photograph that one. Since then the Gazette has had other articles about old schools and we’ve gone to photograph each one.
For the next couple years we kept coming across other old schools as we travelled to Wisconsin and Ohio, as well as some more in Iowa.
In 2008 I was curious if there was any information about country schools in Iowa on the Internet. I found a site compiled by the University of Northern Iowa (can’t find that page now) and another one called “Trundle Bed Tales.” Compiling information from these lists we began to mark out places to search as we traveled around the state for various reasons. (We discovered that these lists were not always kept up to date, with many being torn down still on the lists, and UNI’s list had some really bad directions, which is why I make mine so precise).
In April 2010 started this blog because I had seen a similar photo blog and thought it would be a good way to share our hobby. At first I had all our schools posted in chronological order as we photographed them regardless of the state. However, as time went by it became apparent that it would be best to split the blog into two — one for Iowa sorted by counties and the other for the rest of the country sorted by states.
Things began to pick up pace in 2011. On May 1st we went to Edinburgh to photograph one we heard they had preserved there. When we talked to the curator he pointed us to three more in Jones County. He also showed us an out-of-print book edited by William Sherman, “Iowa’s Country Schools: Landmarks of Learning.” The curator suggested I try to find a copy on E-Bay.
Later in May the Gazette had an article about Owen Jones of Williamsburg, who wrote a book about all the schools in Iowa County. We contacted Mr. Jones and met him on the 15th; we had a good conversation and purchased a copy of his book, and began hunting Iowa County schools on our trips back from band practice in Grinnell.
On 29 June we went to the Sullivan Museum in Waterloo and there in the gift shop were copies of Bill Sherman’s book! It seems the curator there worked with Bill on publishing the book and still had copies of it.
On 11 August we attended an open event put on by the Country School Association at the high school in Tiffin. This event was the showing of a video of a program which had been aired on PBS, about Country Schools in America. There we met the producers of the video (and purchased a copy) and Bill Sherman. I had brought an album of our photos and showed them to Bill and told him about our hobby. Bill was quite excited about our hobby and even suggest that he might be interested in using our photos for a future edition of his book. At that event we also received a laminated copy of the 1912 map of Johnson County, showing the locations of all the schools. That map was a great boon as we used a current map with the same grids to plot out and hunt all the locations over the next couple years. Bill then told us about the 2012 conference in NW Iowa if we wanted to attend, but we weren’t able to do so.
In September another Gazette article has traveling down near Sigourney to see the Lancaster School.
2012 brought two highlights. Someone at the Williamsburg library found our blog and asked us to come on August 30th and do a presentation about our hobby and bring our albums. Bill Sherman contacted us and requested our appearance on November 4th to talk about and present our photo collection to a meeting of the Iowa County Historical Society in Little Amana at the Colony Village Inn.
in October 2013 we attended a Country School Conference for the first time in Decorah. While we were on the tour the 2nd day of the conference, we also went to schools we’d been contacted about which were in the area, and after the conference tour we headed back to Decorah by a back way and found more schools!
We again attended the conference in October 2014, this time in Kolona. We learned a lot at these conferences and really enjoyed them.
In November 2014 the Iowa City Press-Citizen was doing research on country schools and came across our blog. We were then interviewed for their story, which included many of our photos. This article led the Genealogical Society of Linn County to request us as speakers for their meeting in May 2015.
For the conference in October 2015, this time in Boone, I was asked to be a guest speaker telling about our hobby. I brought along our albums and had them for display.
On 27 January 2016 we presented a program for the Johnson County Retired School Personnel in Iowa City; they had seen the Press-Citizen article and had contacted us in June to schedule us.
At the October 2016 conference at the Scott County Park north of Davenport, I was again a guest speaker talking about blogging and photography and how they worked together to provide a historical reference for researching country schools. (We’ve gotten many emails and comments which have either added to the history of the schools we’ve photographed or have given information on some to find.)
We continue to use our lists and word of mouth information to hunt schools when we are traveling around the state. And of course it is always fun to just “stumble” across schools! It has been a fun and interesting hobby.